I don’t often get to talk about the future of digital analytics. Over the past few years I’ve put quite a bit of thought into what the future may look like. It feels like a golden age of tracking right now (at least in North America) – everyone is using cookies, we’re tying together online/offline data, bridging devices, even collecting user demographic information. Over the past decade or so, trends have shifted… from the centralized data warehouse to A/B testing to channel attribution to tag management. It has never been faster or easier to collect, analyze, and drive decisions from data.
I predict cookies will not be a thing in 2 years. Well, I take that back. They will be – but we’ll take the EU model of requiring user opt-in. Why? To put it simply: misdirection. The revelations from the NSA and the resulting paranoia make cookies a really easy target to convince the public that something is being done to protect privacy. I get that it has very little (or nothing) to do with government spying, but it’s an easy superficial “step forward”. To be fair, this move predates NSA spying; but I believe a call for increased net security is accelerating this move quickly. Users with new versions of Internet Explorer are already prompted to decide whether they would like to opt-out. Despite this only affecting the 12 IE users worldwide, it’s only a matter of time before other browsers follow suit.
So what are the alternatives? What’s next? The next generation of tracking may actually get a bit creepier. With IPv6, analytics platforms will have the opportunity to collect an IP that is specific to an individual computer/device. In other words – IPv4 would look at every individual on the global WiFi network at Clemson University as the same person while IPv6 would treat them as individuals (yay for individuality?). Currently, only approximately 16% of the networks on the internet even support IPv6 – so it will be a little while before this becomes viable.
The second alternative is HTML5 canvas fingerprinting. This is really neat because it actually exploits an HTML5 canvas element that draws a hidden line and is converted into a token (or some kind of hash). The tricky part about this is that it is not completely unique since it creates the token based on your system hardware. However, even 95% consistency is pretty darn good (it’s not necessarily 95% unique). Another “vulnerability” is that it can be easily blocked by ad blocking software.
However the cookie evolves/devolves, it will be interesting to see how IPv6 and canvas fingerprinting change the way users are tracked. What’s more interesting is how Google and Adobe will pivot to accommodate a changing landscape… or who knows, maybe they won’t have to. After all of this, we may just end up with the opt-in button – but I can see the end of the cookie road approaching quickly.