What Is A First-Party Cookie?

By Ketch / October 29, 2021

A first-party cookie is a tiny packet of text that is created and stored by a website which a user is visiting. The data it collects from the visitor is used to track the visitor’s activity in order to collect analytics data, remember user input and preferences (such as log-in details), and perform other functions to improve the browsing experience. 

First-party cookies can’t move from one website to another; they can only track user activity on the website they are placed on. By default, websites allow first-party cookies. Otherwise, they won’t be able to identify returning users. 

For example, if you are adding items to a shopping cart on an e-commerce site, first-party cookies make it possible to keep these items in your cart, even if you switch links, as you would if you are looking at multiple items. If first-party cookies are disabled, you would have to sign in and manually search and add items to your cart every time you jump from one page to another.

For more information on managing cookies and how a consent management system can help, contact the privacy experts at Ketch. 

What Are The Differences Between First-Party Cookies And Third-Party Cookies?

Both first-party cookies and third-party cookies track user activity and collect data from consumers. But there are differences in their creation, use, and purpose.

While first-party cookies are created by the person visiting a website, third-party cookies are installed by other programs that are separate or distinct from the site, which explains the term third-party. These are usually from scripts or tags on online advertisements placed on the site; the ads are neither owned nor controlled by the owner of the website.

Third-party cookies are found on any website that loads a third-party server’s code. This means that it can track user activity across multiple websites (even emails and social media platforms) over a long period versus first-party cookies that only live on one website or domain.

Insights collected from third-party cookies are often random and general, so businesses might find it difficult—and sometimes moot—to draw conclusions about their audiences from them. This is the opposite of first-party cookies, which base information from direct and intentional interactions with users of a business’s website.

What About Second-Party Cookies?

Second-party cookies are basically first-party cookies that are used like third-party cookies. Websites that use first-party cookies exchange, sell, or transfer collected information to another business or website through data partnerships.

This data now falls under the category of second-party cookies.

What Do Data Privacy Laws Say About First-Party Cookies?

Data privacy laws such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) establish rules that businesses must follow to protect the personal information of consumers. These include sections on dealing with cookies. If you are asking yourself: “do I need a cookie policy?”, follow the link for an answer.

Under the GDPR, businesses must provide users with information on cookies and obtain opt-in consent before activating cookies on their site. Meanwhile, the CCPA mandates that businesses give consumers the option to opt out of the sale of their personal information, which can be collected by cookies enabled on their websites.

In both laws, the definition of “personal information” doesn’t clearly define first-party cookies as the type of data that must be protected. In some interpretations, first-party cookies fall under the category of session cookies which websites only need to function and, so, don’t pose a risk to data privacy.

That said, it’s safe for businesses to assume that all types of cookies, even first-party cookies, should be included in the implementation of cookie-related regulations. That means that websites should include details of first-party cookies on their cookie message or cookie policy and obtain opt-in cookie consent (or opt-out) from users before enabling them.

First-Party Cookies Are More Valuable

Data privacy laws have begun to employ stricter measures in the use of third-party cookies, which leave businesses relying on first-party cookies for consumer insight. And this isn’t at all a bad thing.

First-party cookies are actually more valuable to businesses since they draw insights directly from consumers (who are typically the target market already) intentionally engaging with their websites. 

The information, then, is much more accurate and relevant. When used correctly, it can provide businesses with information that can help improve the site experience and differentiate the brand from others for a competitive advantage.

Conclusion

The key points to take away are the 3 types of cookies and how they are regulated by the data privacy laws.

First-party cookies are like atoms of information collected from your device, whether that be a laptop or phone, by a website you visit. When that cookie is exchanged or sold to another website, it becomes a second-party cookie. These two types of cookies carry personal information about an individual. Third-party cookies are imported into a website whenever that site loads code from another party’s server; these cookies pick up more general information from visitors. 

Both the GDPR and the CCPA have legislated that businesses must take certain actions to protect the privacy of the personal information taken from visitors to their websites or apps. This protection includes providing information about website cookies and their purpose and gives website visitors some control over cookies and/or the use of their personal information.

Every business needs to be familiar with these two pieces of legislation since required compliance extends far beyond the state and region in which they became law.

  
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