Web browsers – we all use them, day in and day out. But not all web browsers are created equal. As consumers have become more privacy-conscious in recent years, so too have web browsers evolved to try and meet this shift in behavior.
From different approaches to tracking user behavior and varying privacy policies to handling cookies and offering advanced privacy settings, they now play a crucial role in maintaining the privacy of users online.
The breakthrough in introducing privacy features within browsers came first with Mozilla Firefox’s 3.5 update way back in June 2009. Firefox launched the “Private Browsing” feature, allowing users to browse the web without saving their browsing history, search keywords, cookies, or form data. This privacy update appealed to users who were concerned about online tracking, data collection, and intrusions into their privacy.
In 2017, Apple released Safari 11.0 as a part of its Intelligent Tracking Prevention (ITP) initiative and began blocking third-party cookies (TPCs) by default. With this update, Apple aimed to enhance user privacy by limiting TPC-enabled cross-site tracking and ad retargeting. As a result, marketers’ ability to track and target users, ad reach, and campaign performance plummeted.
Following suit, more browsers joined the rally and honed users’ privacy and protection of data with a suite of features, including cookie management, tracking prevention, fingerprinting prevention, ad blocking, enhanced encryption, preferences management, etc. Such privacy browsers include Brave, Mozilla Firefox, Tor, DuckDuckGo and Mullvad Browser.
The update that’s going to have the biggest impact is yet to materialize but looms on the horizon: Google has also announced to block third-party cookies by default in the coming years. Boasting the lion’s share of web traffic, this change for the Google Chrome browser will undoubtedly have lasting impacts for marketers.
This privacy-first movement has affected users and marketers differently. While users are on the positive side, appreciating additional privacy and security features, marketers face some new challenges.
5 key points to know about privacy browser features
- Tracking prevention:
- Cookie management:
Privacy-focused browsers tend to provide granular control over the management of cookies. Privacy settings allow users to block third-party cookies by default or clear cookies automatically upon the completion of a browsing session. Users can configure the browser to prompt them for cookie acceptance or rejection on a per-site basis. It enables users to make informed decisions regarding various consent preferences, such as enabling or disabling websites from accessing their personal data. Cookie whitelisting and blacklisting features enable users to make a list of websites that are either allowed or blocked from setting cookies on their devices. Users can manually whitelist or blacklist sites based on their preferences and trust in them. Some challenger browsers also employ the Global Privacy Control (GPC) standards, which transmits an opt-out signal to websites, informing them that the user does not wish to have their personal information “sold.”
- Ad blockers:
Websites have increasingly become flooded with ads stalking users based on their browsing or search history. Tracking prevention does help keep personalized ads to an extent, yet ads won’t be wiped out completely. Privacy browsers come bundled with ad-blocking capabilities or offer compatibility with ad-blocking extensions. With an ad-blocking feature, privacy browsers aim to enhance the online browsing experience and dampen the intrusion of unwanted ads. As these ad blockers particularly affect display advertising, they have serious implications for marketers. Ads served by them won’t be visible to users, resulting in a potentially shrinking audience for their advertising campaigns.
- Enhanced encryption and HTTPs:
Privacy browsers emphasize the use of stronger encryption and HTTPS connections. HTTPS (Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure) encrypts the content exchanged between users’ browsers and the website. It ensures the confidentiality of users’ browsing activities and prevents access by third parties. Encryption tamper-proofs the content transmitted between the user and the website, and HTTPs authenticate the identity of websites a user chooses to access. HTTPs and encryption together leave no room for man-in-the-middle attacks or any security breaches to occur. From a marketer’s perspective, analyzing specific user actions, such as page views, interactions, or form submissions, becomes challenging. As this raw data is encrypted by nature, it cannot be easily intercepted or accessed by third parties. Encryption hinders marketers’ ability to track and understand user behavior.
- Search engine preferences:
The rise of privacy-focused search engines has been mainly in response to search engines’ perceived shortcoming: tracking user data without consent. In response, a few privacy browsers also integrate privacy-focused search engines. Examples of privacy-focused search engines include DuckDuckGo, Yahoo! Search, Neeva, Startpage, Quant, etc. Some privacy browsers may default to private or incognito mode in order to not save users’ browsing history, cookies, or cache. Furthermore, these browsers limit search suggestions and autocomplete features to minimize the search engine’s attempt to capture or log search input as users type.
So, what are the impacts of privacy browsers on marketing?
As privacy browsers prioritize the prevention of tracking and the privacy of users, these features act in opposition to marketers’ traditional methods of deriving insights from users’ data.
Privacy browsers impact marketers in the following ways:
- Restrictions imposed on tracking technologies like cookies, tracking pixels, and scripts limit marketers’ ability to track user behavior and gather detailed analytics.
- Tracking and identifying users who showed interest in certain products or services becomes difficult with limited insights. Limited insights into user behavior, preferences, and interests make it challenging for marketers to tailor campaigns, measure their performance, and optimize strategies.
- With ad-blocking features enabled, users won’t see ads. Marketers, as a result, may experience reduced ad impressions, reducing brand exposure and the effectiveness of campaigns.
- Consent, as another pillar of data protection, hinders the data collection practices of marketers who, without explicit consent obtained from users, can’t collect or process their data.
How can marketers handle privacy browser features?
It’s harder than ever to keep up with the evolving landscape in a privacy-conscious world. As numerous changes are taking place at once—regulatory reforms are coming, technological innovations are happening, and people’s awareness of their data privacy comes to a boil—marketers should brace themselves with a full-proof plan that focuses on user privacy alongside delivering valuable content in exchange for their data.
Marketers who can reinvent the wheel as a replacement for cookies and hyper-personalized targeting will pay dividends in the future. Our recent research report showed over half of marketers say that their company has not planned for shifting their marketing strategy once cookie tracking is removed. How confident are you?