Key Differences Between First-Party And Third-Party Cookies

In order for a website to work, it needs to use certain technologies such as scripts and APIs. Similarly, websites must implement cookies to offer good user experiences and do other necessary things. Cookies can be first-party and third-party, and both types have key differences, which this article will briefly discuss; please read on.

What Are Cookies?

Cookies or computer cookies are small files used by websites and web browsers. Websites send/receive cookies to/from browsers to remember and follow user preferences and browsing activity. Moreover, such files are used to track user login sessions, restore configurations (e.g., language, site display), and browsing trends (for ads and analytics). First-party and third-party are the two types of cookies, and both have specific purposes, which makes one different from the other.

Differences Between First-Party And Third-Party Cookies

First-party cookies are cookies used on a website and that are owned by the same website. Such cookies are primarily for tracking login sessions and user preferences. In the real world, a first-party cookie allows the login form to remember usernames/emails or eliminate the need to re-login after every page refresh. However, many e-commerce sites also use these files to analyze product browsing/buying behaviors of users to tailor recommendations. Only the domain owner can access its first-party cookies, but some sites sell such files to others for ad purposes.

Third-party cookies, on the other hand, are cookies used on a website and owned by another site. And these files are mainly for advertising and data analytics purposes. Moreover, a third-party cookie can come from a:

  • Regular website – Many websites distribute cookies to other sites to track user browsing activity. For instance, Facebook uses share widgets and cookies (managed by its own tracking service) to follow users across the web and tailor its ads.
  • Ad-tech provider – Third-party cookies are typically from ad-tech providers like Google. Such providers will distribute cookies through many websites to browsers. And any website with a particular third-party (ad-tech provider) server code can utilize that provider’s third-party cookie.

There are many differences between first-party and third-party cookies, with the following three things being the most important:

Setting up

Only the web server (site’s server) can set the first-party cookie of its website using direct configuration or loading a JavaScript file. On the other hand, a third-party cookie can be set by an ad-tech service, through ad-tech server code loading, or by another website.

Access and availability

Similarly, only the domain can access and utilize its first-party cookies. In contrast, a third-party cookie is available to websites that have implemented the server code of that cookie’s creator (a regular website or ad-tech provider).

Browser treatment and user control

First-party cookies are essential for site functioning and providing good user experiences, so most browsers allow/support these files by default. A user can also delete a first-party cookie, typically through the developer tools section of the browser.

Third-party cookies collect user data which are distributed to different sites. Accordingly, many laws require websites to inform and let users choose to accept or opt-out before running cookies. Many browsers also now block certain third-party cookies by default for privacy or performance tuning purposes. Lastly, while users can delete most third-party cookies, shady ad-tech services create zombie cookies that just replicate in secret after removal.

Why Are Cookies Important For A Website?

Cookies are essential for almost every website. As such, first-party cookies make the browsing experience better and more personalized for users. Also, third-party cookies allow blogs to monetize content, e-commerce sites to drive more sales, and social media platforms to tailor ads.

For website owners, especially new ones, using/implementing cookies and integrating other technologies can be challenging. Thankfully, a headless CMS makes it easier to handle tools like cookie consent manager, ad-tech dashboard, and other data collection programs. Zesty.io is an ideal platform to get started with cookie management, so learn more or try it for free today!

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