Not even a full month after it was revealed that Google (GOOG) is working on an internet tracking technology to replace the cookie, Ad Age’s Tim Peterson reports that Microsoft (MSFT) is considering an alternative of its own to track users across its devices, operating systems, and online services.
The technology Microsoft is developing would track users on computers, tablets, and smartphones that run Windows operating systems, as well as on the Xbox video game consoles and online services like Internet Explorer and Bing.
The news represents the latest blow to third-party cookies, small pieces of code that companies use to track internet browsing and marketers use to target advertisements across the web. Though pervasive across the internet just a few years ago, these cookies, which critics say are an invasion of privacy, are now thought to be headed toward extinction, even though a huge chunk of the web advertising business is entirely reliant upon them. Apple’s Safari browser blocks them, and new versions of Mozilla Firefox will, too. Additionally, Internet Explorer’s default setting puts out a “do not track” signal that requests websites abstain from tracking users’ whereabouts.
The shift away from cookies has also been hastened by the increase in mobile device usage. There are no cookies anywhere in Apple’s iPad and iPhones, and Android devices only use them in the web browser, meaning cookies do not track Android users while they are using apps.
Microsoft’s move is another step toward a possible scenario where third-party cookies give way to several large internet companies (Microsoft, Google, Facebook (FB), and Apple (AAPL)) fighting over tracking data created on the web via their own company-specific tracking systems. In addition to the tracking systems being developed by Microsoft and Google, Facebook tracks users’ browsing while they’re logged in to the social network, and Apple tracks iPhone and iPad users with a system called IDFA, short for ID for Advertisers.
The demise of the cookie is something of a victory for Microsoft after it was roundly mocked on the internet when it announced last year that its Internet Explorer 10 would feature a “Do Not Track” default setting. While a huge portion of Google’s business is built around cookies (Chrome browser is the only major browser that tracks users by default), Microsoft’s business is largely unaffected because the company makes the lion’s share of its revenues from selling products as opposed to advertisements.
Moving forward, the companies will battle to create an industry-wide tracking standard that gives them so much data that advertisers will have no choice but to do business with them and rival platforms will be forced to support the new standard.