Since the early days of the internet, browser cookies have been used to track user behavior, deliver personalized experiences, and improve the success of targeted advertising.

But as users demand more transparency into how their data is being used online, browsers are changing the rules on how the information in cookies can be used across websites.

As these changes roll out, cloud-based products and services must adapt in order to not interrupt or compromise the user experience. Your company’s referral program is no exception.

Keep reading to learn how the rules are changing around browser cookies, and what this means for your customer referral program.

What are browser cookies?

Cookies are small files created by the websites you visit that are used to remember your preferences and deliver personalized experiences.

When you return to a shopping website to find items still in your cart, it’s because a cookie was created to keep them there. When you visit a website and see an ad for an item you were recently browsing, it’s because a cookie was loaded using information from your browsing history.

There are two main types of browser cookies: first-party and third-party cookies. While they can both hold the same information, their difference lies in how and where they are created and used.

  • First-party cookie: These cookies are created and stored by the website you are visiting. They are used for remembering login details, language preferences, etc.
  • Third-party cookie: These cookies are created by websites other than the one you’re currently visiting. They are used mainly for advertising and tracking purposes.

For example, say you’re browsing a clothing website, clothes.com. While you shop, a first-party cookie is being created on that website to remember the items in your cart and keep you logged in at clothes.com.

Meanwhile, information about your shopping history is being sent to an advertising service (ie. adserver.com) to create a cookie for retargeting you with ads as you visit other websites like news or weather sites. When this cookie loads a targeted ad on a site like news.com, it’s considered third-party because the cookie’s originating domain (adserver.com) doesn’t match the domain on which the information is being loaded (news.com).

Image source

As this image above shows, designating a cookie as first-party or third-party is based on whether the information in the cookie was created on the domain that is also reading the cookie. If it was created on site A, and is now being used on site B (such as for targeted advertising), it’s considered to be third-party as the information isn’t native to site B.

To read more about the difference between first and third party cookies, and how they are created, please refer to this article: https://clearcode.cc/blog/difference-between-first-party-third-party-cookies/

What’s changing about third-party cookies?

Internet browsers (i.e. Safari, Chrome, Edge) are changing the rules around how third-party cookies can be used to track behavior, in an effort to promote privacy and transparency for users.

Trends are shifting in favor of the consumer and in terms of how much personal information can be shared across websites without their explicit consent.

This means more and more web browsers are putting measures in place to block the use of third-party cookies. Browsers like Chrome plan to eventually phase out support for third-party cookies by 2022, while others like Safari have already made the adjustment.

Why? As a Chrome developer explains in their blog post, “Users are demanding greater privacy–including transparency, choice and control over how their data is used–and it’s clear the web ecosystem needs to evolve to meet these increasing demands.”

Put simply, eliminating third-party cookies means that your information is more likely to stay on the websites that you actually visit, and isn’t as easily shared with other domains.

What does this mean for your referral program?

As internet browsers change how user data is handled, digital products and services need to adapt, and referral programs are no exception. Let us explain why.

Previously, with a referral platform like SaaSquatch, when a referred friend clicks a link the friend is taken to a SaaSquatch domain. At this point, SaaSquatch creates a cookie containing the customer’s referral code and places it into the referred friend’s browser before forwarding the friend to your company’s landing page.

Because this cookie was created on the SaaSquatch domain yet being loaded on your brand’s domain, it’s considered a third-party cookie when it loads on your website.

So, because many present and upcoming changes to browser behavior restrict the use of these 3rd-party cookies, a first-party cookie is needed to pass referral information from SaaSquatch to your domain.

How is SaaSquatch adapting?

To remain adherent with this industry shift, SaaSquatch is updating our core architecture to transition away from the use of 3rd-party cookies.

How do we ensure the correct referral data is transferred from our site to yours without a third-party cookie?

This is done by placing specific javascript on your landing page so it can read UTM parameters sent from the SaaSquatch domain and create a valid first-party cookie. As the cookie will now be created on your website’s domain, it exists as a first-party cookie and is in full compliance with all browsers.

Our latest update has been designed in such a way to require a minimal change to your existing implementation. Our existing system utilizing 3rd-party cookies will continue to function on browsers that support that option (Chrome, Firefox and Edge).

Learn more about SaaSquatch referral programs and first-party cookies here.

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