2022 Digital Privacy Trends: Browsers

With the death of third-party cookies ahead, 2022 is a year of change. But what are browser developers doing to help or hinder digital marketers and advertisers?

In short:

Digital marketing owes its overwhelming success to user data gathered through cookies in browsers. But recently, there has been a wave of concern about how that data is collected and used. In response, policymakers worldwide have set down legal standards for digital data privacy, and browser developers are responding.

With Data Privacy Day just around the corner, we've taken a deep dive into browser trends, innovative ideas, and what it means for digital advertising in 2022.

The cookie gets its last big byte

In the 1990s, third-party cookies came into existence to improve user experiences as the web became a more complex place. Marketers quickly leveraged cookies to track target users across their sites to understand consumer behaviour and deliver targeted advertising.

Over the following 20 years little changed - until recently. As our lives have become increasingly entwined with online experiences, the ethics of third-party cookies and behavioural targeting raised many questions around user privacy and browsers.

Cookies are digital identifiers that are stored on your device. However, they aren’t secure and can be used maliciously should they fall into the wrong hands. The data they store can also be traded and can be worth big money. This all told is an ethical conundrum and risk that lawmakers, developers, advertisers and individuals alike no longer want to take.

Fast forward to today, and the future of online advertising is changing forever.

What is Google Chrome doing about user privacy?

Google announced that it would phase out cookies in its Chrome browser by late 20231, and the date is fast approaching. In response, Google introduced the Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC). FLoC is a privacy-focused technology within Chrome that groups users in cohorts, keeping their data anonymously stored in the browser. Recently, Google retired FLoC and implemented the new privacy sandbox Topics API which assigns users subject groups.

In general, removing identifiers from their advertising ecosystem moves marketing from a one-to-one targeting approach to a more generalised one-to-many approach. This approach sounds counterproductive, but Google's significant investment in technology backed by years of machine learning means that Chrome and the Google Marketing Platform remain in a strong position.

Privacy-focused Chrome alternatives

2021 saw some browsers (like Safari) block third party cookies, and Apple made sweeping changes to their privacy policies for iOS 14, with more changes expected for iOS 15. As a result, metrics in these consumer groups like clicks and open rate took a dive, and digital marketers and brands got a taste of what a cookie-less world looked like.

Whilst iOS has a substantial share of the mobile operating system market, Safari represents less than 5% of all browsers2. Chrome remains the most popular browser by far with a 69% market share. With cookies still in place until at least mid-2022 in Chrome, there is some reporting this may only happen by the end of 2023.

While the major players in the internet browser market start to crack down on privacy, some consumers are already eyeing out browsers that offer increased privacy.

For privacy-focused users, some of the most popular Chrome alternatives are Firefox, Opera and Tor, each offering varying amounts of displayed advertising. Even Microsoft’s default browser Edge puts privacy first, with optional enhanced Bing search and news results content.

Not only do the browsers enhance privacy, some of them natively block ads.

The privacy-aware browser and search engine DuckDuckGo is making small waves for just that reason. DuckDuckGo recently announced they had surpassed 1 billion searches. To put that milestone into perspective, they reached 1 million searches per day, 12 months ago. These aren't rookie numbers, but they dwarf when compared to Google. At the very least, the growing popularity touches on the importance of a comprehensive SEO strategy in your marketing plan.

But what if consumers really want to see ads?

Chromium-based web browser Brave flips digital advertising on its head. The browser offers users cryptocurrency for opting into Brave Ads as part of its rewards program. And it does this without sharing personal data by using blockchain. In return, Brave hopes to connect brands with engaged consumers.

And there is the research to prove it works. The consumer perception of the ads in Brave is positive, with consumers stating they feel more receptive to ads in an environment where they can have control over their privacy3.

It's not a new idea to offer consumers 'rewards' for opting into ads, and it’s something that 8 million monthly active consumers want. In 2021, Brave Ads delivered 5000 privacy-safe campaigns from leading brands such as American Express, PayPal, Toyota, Ford, BMW, and Amazon.

What marketers should do in 2022

In 2022, there is going to be an ongoing need to maintain a balance between user privacy and online advertising reach. Keep an eye on browser release notes, beta builds, and new players as developers respond to legal changes in each region with creative solutions.

While some of these browser alternatives seem like harsh competition, it is only enough to make a small dent in Chrome's dominance. As a result, this year, the much-loved environment will remain the largest source of your data and user insights.

Browser preferences aside, 2022 is the year to execute an effective SEO and SEM strategy. And if you're spending big on advertising this year, utilise the latest marketing technology to make the most of first-party data.

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