Cookies have been the cornerstone of online measurement and data collection since the start of online advertising. However, with the advent of new data and privacy legislation (such as the impending ePrivacy Directive [PDF]) many digital marketers (including myself) are asking themselves, what are the truly viable alternatives to such a widely accepted way of measuring online performance?

Before attempting to answer this question, we need to examine some of the supposed problems relating to cookie based web measurement. The most obvious problem is that users routinely delete their cookies. According to ComScore nearly 43% of users delete their cookies on a monthly basis. In addition to this, aggressive local interpretations of new cookie legislation (such as that witnessed in the Netherlands) could dramatically diminish our ability to measure online performance. Obtaining specific pre-consent to drop a first/third party cookie would make it nearly impossible to measure online performance as we currently do as users will simply opt out if given the opportunity.

So cookie based measurement is extinct (or soon will be), I here you say? In short, no. It is essential the points detailed above are placed in context before reviewing an alternative. Cookie based measurement has allowed advertisers to truly understand the value and effectiveness of their advertising. Regardless of deletion rates it still provides by far the most accurate quantifiable measurement. Aggressive interpretations of the new legislation also need to be taken with a big pinch of salt. The UK government has been pretty clear in stating that is does not want to harm the digital economy and the technologies that have fuelled up its rapid growth.

We need to make sure these changes do not make using the internet more difficult. We recognise this could cause uncertainty for businesses and consumer. Therefore we do not expect the ICO to take enforcement action in the short term against businesses and organisations as they work out how to address their use of cookies.

Ed Vaizey – Minister for Culture, Communications, & the Creative Industries

So is there a viable alternative? The most clearly defined is Devise Identification. This solution is able to uniquely identify and recognize individual devices (computers, tablets, mobile phones etc.), at a scale and speed that is sufficient in the fast paced digital universe. It does this by placing a small piece of JS on website pages which then correspond directly with a device ID service in order to give a persistent identity to each device. We won’t explore the detail behind this solution now, but this form of identification could then be integrated with optimization and CRM tools and even passed into advertising eco-systems. The result being a very accurate and scalable alternative to cookies that cannot be deleted and obtains a base level of consent when the device is activated. There are many caveats relating to device ID, not least being how to implement and scale such a solution.

In summary, the cookie hasn’t finally crumbled and it will continue to be an integral part of online measurement in the short and medium term. This is particularly true until a viable alternative becomes widely available. However, as the digital market place and subsequent technologies evolve it is essential that device ID alternatives such Bluecava and AdTruth are not ignored and are robustly tested by those keen to explore change.