When you go to Facebook and you want to stay logged in, Facebook puts a cookie in your browsers. This cookie file lets Facebook know next time when you come back that you are already logged in.
Up until now, the way Facebook Pixel worked on your website is as follows: most people are already logged into Facebook and have the cookie file. When they got to your website, the pixel on your website would look for the Facebook cookie and identify the visitor.
But all of this changed when Apple announced in June of 2018 that it will now block "3rd party cookies" by default. Another word, if you are visiting www.weddingphotographerwebsite.com and the website is trying to trigger cookies of another website (i.e. Facebook.com) then Safari would now block that.
Shortly after, Firefox announced that it would implement the same changes.
But of course, Facebook, Google, and all the other online advertising platforms responded to this move with their own workarounds. Mainly, almost all advertising platforms (Facebook included) responded that they will be moving to a "first-party cookies" as opposed to what they have been using up until now.
Now, if you don't know what "third-party" vs "first-party" cookies are. Let me make it simple...
Facebook is adding a new setting to the pixel that will now install "first-party" cookies as opposed to only using "3rd-party" cookies (which has been the case so far). This setting is already appearing in advertisers' accounts.
The short and simple explanation (if you don't care about the details) is that the new change Apple Safari and Mozilla Firefox have brought around will not block first-party cookies, only 3rd-party, so as long as you turn on the new setting, nothing changes.
Facebook is also adding an option that can determine if the pixel can be used for both advertising and analytics or analytics alone.
If you want to understand this a bit better, keep reading...
Facebook notified all of its advertisers on Friday, October 5th about its plans to release an update to its pixel that will now support first-party cookies option. In an email blast that went out on Friday, Facebook stated:
"On October 24, Facebook will begin offering businesses a first-party cookie option with the Facebook pixel. This change is in line with updates made by other online platforms, as the use of first-party cookies for ads and site analytics is becoming the preferred approach by some browsers.
Businesses have long relied on cookies to serve ads to relevant audiences and understand visits to their sites. Up until now, Facebook has used its pixel — powered by third-party cookies — for website analytics, ad targeting, and ad measurement. This new option will also help advertisers, publishers, and developers continue to get accurate analytics about traffic to their websites."
To address privacy concerns over excessive tracking for the purpose of ad retargeting, Apple introduced Intelligent Tracking Prevention (ITP) in its internet browser Safari last year. This was to block third-party trackers (such as Facebook Pixel) from capturing data for ad targeting purposes. Apple also released ITP 2.0 in June during its WWDC.
Then this past August, Mozilla announced that its browser Firefox will also soon block 3rd-party cookies and storage access to inhibit cross-site tracking as well.
To continue access to analytics, Apple tells developers to “configure your web analytics to not rely on third-party cookies from domains that don’t get user interaction.” And suggests using UTMs or similar link appending options (appending strings to URLs) as a way to maintain cross-site analytics and ad attribution.
And this is exactly what Facebook is taking advantage of. Rather than having its pixel trigger Facebook's cookies on user's computer, it will now pass the needed data from the ad click via a string of characters appended to your URL.
How Facebook's new solution works
When someone clicks on a Facebook ad, a unique string of characters is appended to the landing page URL. If you have a pixel on the site that is configured to share first-party cookies with Facebook, that string of characters will be written into the person's browser as a first-party cookie. From there on the pixel includes the first-party cookie with all events it sends to Facebook.
For advertisers that decide to stick with the third-party pixel (mainly financial institutions and other business that need to protect sensitive data), Facebook may offer some estimates based on statistical models to estimate conversions from Safari, but there aren't any clear details yet.
Timing and what to expect.
Based on the October 5 communication from Facebook, businesses will be able to sign into Events Manager to edit their Facebook Pixel cookie settings under the detail button of a pixel. Businesses have until October 24 to turn off the first-party cookies setting if they don’t want to use the first-party cookies at all. After October 24, the first-party cookies will become the default for new Pixels, but advertisers will be able to change their settings at any time.
Here are screenshots that will show you how to access the settings for this:
Image courtesy of Michelle Breiter Photography