Are Google Analytics Cookies Third-Party?

The third-party cookie is being phased-out by all browsers. Does this mean you need to worry about your data in Google Analytics?

Published Categorized as Marketing

By now, there isn’t a single person in the world who hasn’t heard, read, or thought about the death of third-party cookies. And it’s no wonder.

For a long time, third-party cookies—cookies set by sites other than the one you’re currently on—enabled advertisers, ad exchanges, social media platforms, online publishers, and everyone in-between to track (and capitalize on) the online behavior of billions of Internet users worldwide.

But thanks to the tightening of data protection regulations in Europe and the Americas and the push from Apple to position itself as a privacy-first company, third-party cookies are slowly but surely becoming a relic of the past.

As a consumer, you’re probably relieved. No more annoying ads chasing you all over the Internet to buy that pair of shoes you bought two weeks ago! As a marketer, you are probably worried.

You use Google Analytics to measure the performance of your ad campaigns and landing pages… If third-party cookies are going away, does that mean you will no longer be able to?

What Kind of Cookies Does Google Analytics Use?

Contrary to what some marketers think, Google Analytics does not rely on third-party cookies.

Google Analytics 4 and the measurement library that it uses, gtag.js, use only first-party cookies to recognize returning users to your website and store campaign-related information for your ads.

To be specific, Google Analytics 4 drops the following cookies on your visitors’ devices:

Cookie NameCookie DurationCookie Purpose
_ga2 yearsRecognize returning visitors
_gid24 hoursRecognize returning visitors
_ga_{container-id}2 yearsRemember sessions
_gac_gb_{container-id}90 daysStores ad campaign information from Google Ads
Cookies saved by Google Analytics 4 (source)

This is good news.

So if you’re worried that the imminent death of third-party cookies might impact how Google Analytics tracks the performance of your ad campaigns and your website, don’t be.

Because Google Analytics uses first-party cookies, it wasn’t affected by Apple’s blocking of third-party cookies—and it won’t be affected when Google phases out support for third-party cookies in its Google Chrome browser either.

First-Party vs. Third-Party Cookies

What’s the big deal with first-party cookies vs. third-party cookies, anyway?

Well, when you visit a website and that website drops a cookie on your device, that’s a first-party cookie. The thing about this type of cookies is that they can only be read by scripts on the website that dropped them.

In other words, they can’t be used to track your browsing behavior all over the web. (Only on the website in question.)

Third-party cookies, as their name suggests and as you can probably guess by now, are cookies dropped by third parties. For example, that website you just visited implemented a tracking pixel by an ad exchange. That pixel gives you a unique ID in a third-party cookie that can be read by any other website with the same pixel implemented.

And this is how you get retargeted by the same ads all over the web!

This is clearly something that data protection authorities and companies that want to position themselves as protectors of their consumers’ privacy have a beef with. (It isn’t hard to understand why; this type of cookies can be pretty invasive and pervasive.)

So they set out to kill them.

And now, we’re in this weird limbo where advertisers are trying to figure out how to break even (let alone make a profit) from their ad spend, and consumers are wondering why they see weird ads for products and services they have no interest in.

Hey, but at least your Google Analytics dashboards and the data on them will be fine.

In Summary

If you buy ads online, you have many things to be worried about thanks to the death of the third-party cookie. Happily, Google Analytics isn’t one of them.

Google Analytics 4 uses only first-party cookies to recognize returning visitors and remember data from ad campaigns on their devices for attribution purposes.

It wasn’t impacted by Apple’s phase-out of third-party cookies and won’t be affected if and when Google follows suit.

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For our clients, we take care of everything from ads and sales funnels to content marketing and online reputation management in a way that gets them results and helps them win the hearts and minds of their audiences.

If you think we can help you and your organization, don’t hesitate to get in touch!

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