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Does GA4 Use Cookies?

Updated on 23 January 2023

Google Analytics 4 (GA4) is the latest iteration of the popular website analytics tool developed by Google. With the launch of GA4, there has been a lot of interest in what this new version has to offer, and one question that has come up frequently is whether or not GA4 uses cookies.
Cookies have been the go-to tool for marketers to track visitors and their website usage. But how does Google Analytics precisely utilize cookies, and what is changing?

What are Cookies?

A cookie is a file that stores a small piece of data about a user. Every time you explore a website, your browser stores a cookie. This includes immense amounts of data about what content engages you most. Cookies are an invaluable tool for marketers to comprehend consumers’ behaviour on their sites better; Google Analytics uses cookies to illustrate in greater detail who their visitors are and how they interact with the site. Quite useful indeed! Nevertheless, as privacy laws become stricter and tools strive hard to protect users’ information, businesses such as Google now face the possibility of operating without relying on cookies in the near future.

Are Cookies Bad?

It’s important to remember that cookies aren’t necessarily bad and have their benefits. Automated information fill-in, for instance, can be incredibly useful if you trust the website in question. With this being said, there is no harm in allowing cookies from trustworthy sites as it has the potential to create a far more personalized experience!

It can be tricky to figure out where exactly to draw the line with cookies, especially since user privacy and personal data have become major points of contention in today’s digital landscape. To ensure that users had a say when it came to cookie usage, The EU passed a law back in 2018 mandating websites give their visitors the choice between accepting or rejecting them. Nonetheless, it is important to remember not all cookies are made equal; they come in various forms and serve different purposes.

First-Party Cookies vs Third-Party Cookies

First-party cookies are cookies that are set by the website that is being visited by the user. They are used to store information such as login information, shopping cart contents, and preferences. These cookies can only be accessed by the website that set them.

Third-party cookies, on the other hand, are set by a domain other than the one that the user is visiting. They are often used for online advertising and tracking purposes. They can be accessed by both the website that set them and the third-party domain. Third-party cookies can be used to track a user’s browsing habits across multiple websites and to serve targeted advertising

How GA4 Uses Cookies?

Google Analytics 4 relies on first-party cookies which keeps them compliant with new privacy laws like GDPR and the California Consumer Privacy Act.

But Google also wanted to be ahead of the curve when it comes to new privacy developments and they’re definitely on the right track. Changes like Apple’s iOS14 confirm that the future is likely cookieless and folks need to get on board. Google Analytics is also designed to leverage machine learning and other protocols to fill in data gaps. They call this “blended data”

Do I Need a Cookie Banner if I Use GA4?

Integrating GA4 into your website will result in standard Tracking Cookies being dropped on the devices of individuals who visit it. Depending on where these people are from, cookie laws may be in place to monitor usage of tracking and other varieties of cookies. If users come from European Union countries specifically, then GDPR governs the use of said cookies as well as GA4 itself. Despite variations in Cookie Consent regulations depending on the country, most websites must get explicit permission from users before setting cookies. But if you are utilizing GA4 with IP anonymization and do not share user data with other Google services, then you don’t need to collect explicit consent for cookie usage.

If you don’t utilize IP anonymization or share GA4 data with Google Ads and Google Signals, then it is essential to gain active users’ consent by displaying a Cookie Banner. Additionally, if your website does share GA4 data with the aforementioned services, be sure to update your Privacy Policy in order to reflect this information.

How about FLoC?

FLoC, or Federated Learning of Cohorts, is Google’s ambitious project to replace third-party cookies and move towards a cookieless future. Rather than relying on user data for tracking and advertising purposes, this method offers simulated data that could revolutionize the way web companies approach personalization. According to their blog posts about FLoC:

“When it comes to generating interest-based audiences, FLoC can provide an effective replacement signal for third-party cookies. Our test of FLoC to reach in-market affinity and affinity Google Audiences show that advertisers can expect to see at least 95% of conversions per dollar spent when compared to cookie-based advertising. The specific result depends on the strength of the clustering algorithm that FLoC uses and the type of audience being reached.”

FLoC provides a way for you to surf the web without sacrificing your privacy. By using Google Chrome, FLoC’s algorithm will assign users to an “interest cohort” with others who have similar browsing histories. This makes interest-based ad selection possible while still guarding each user’s data against unwanted access.

So is FLoC a perfect solution?

No, although FLoC has the potential to address privacy concerns, it is far from a perfect system and fails to provide the level of accuracy that modern digital marketing requires.

For Example, the interest-based cohorts are established by Google and not advertisers. This is a huge issue because it requires you to tailor your product or service into specific categories presented by Google; thus leaving no room for detailed customization. Furthermore, it can make attribution quite confusing as we’ve witnessed with the release of iOS 14 and Facebook Ads which struggles in tracking users between websites and devices. Finally, FLoC puts a lot of the power into Google’s hands. It’s unlikely that we’ll have a good understanding of exactly what goes into these interest cohorts which not only reduces transparency but by extension, further reduces precision.

But despite its flaws, it’s still a good start as we enter a cookieless world.

So, Whats the best possible way?

Undoubtedly, you are probably trying to figure out the best approach for collecting user data with these evolving cookie regulations. Well, Google Analytics 4 (GA4) suggests tracking User ID instead of cookies as a workaround solution! We will discuss this in another blog.

Another thing you can do is keep your existing Universal Analytics properties along with your new GA4 property. By doing this, you’ll get a better understanding of your data. GA4 has a lot to offer on its own, but keeping your UA account will make sure you’re still tracking users to the best of your ability.

As digital marketing evolves to address ever-changing trends, such as cookieless Google Analytics and the impact of iOS 14 on privacy concerns, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. However, when one door closes another opens – don’t be afraid to seize these opportunities!

About Aayushman

He loves nothing more than diving into a big dataset and finding patterns and insights that can help drive better decision-making. He is skilled in a range of tools and techniques, including Google Analytics, Google Tag Manager, Telium, Looker Studio, Google Big Query and Python. He is comfortable working with both technical and non-technical stakeholders to share his findings. With a background in both business and computer science, he has a unique perspective that allows him to approach data analysis from different angles. In his previous roles, He applied his skills to improve efficiency, identify new opportunities, and support decision-making.

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