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Brand Strategy Open Mic Third Party Cookie

70% of consumers blocking cookies online, research shows

By Vanessa O’Connell, head of marketing communications

Nano Interactive


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May 9, 2023 | 6 min read

For The Drum’s latest Deep Dive, The New Data & Privacy Playbook, Vanessa O’Connell (head of marketing communications, Nano Interactive) discusses the results of a survey that explores the growing trend of consumers limiting online tracking to protect their privacy - and what it means for advertisers.


Since Safari sunset cookies in 2020, ad tech has effectively said, “keep calm and carry on tracking.” Even if affluent Safari-using Mac and iPhone users are no longer targetable or measurable, that is still only 30% of the market.

Up to now, industry-made remedies to the problem have mostly focused on ‘knowing the unknowable’ in the Apple universe alone. But what if the problem were far more widespread? Outside of major tech firms cracking down on tracking, what about consumers cutting out people-based targeting themselves?

Whether it’s clearing caches, browsing incognito, using VPNs or rejecting opt-in prompts – the list of options the public has within their reach is surprisingly long. Yet as an issue, it’s hardly covered.

To shine a light on this, Nano surveyed a representative sample of 2,000 UK consumers, to understand the steps they’re taking to enforce their privacy online, as well as why – and how - their attitudes on the topic have altered over the past few years.

Seven out of 10 people hide personal data

The headline finding was that around seven out of 10 (70%) of respondents had taken steps to limit cookies – all in the past week. That includes all of the measures listed above, plus using Safari and other browsers that cut trackers off at source.

A smaller percentage take even more drastic measures, almost a fifth (18%) opting out of cookies daily, which as we all know takes time and effort. Meanwhile, 40% make use of a VPN, which usually comes with its own cost.

The overall picture is of a market where addressability is even more fragmented than the general narrative often makes out. If only three out of 10 users can be reliably measured and targeted against, can audience-based targeting still claim to even be able to reach the right person most of the time, if at all?

Let's just put this number in wider context, in case there is still any doubt. The number of UK consumers taking their own steps to stop tracking may be more than the percentage of UK online users who use Instagram on a monthly basis (65%, according to eMarketer). It also represents a greater percentage of the UK audience than the total with access to any of the many subscription VOD services on the market - all of Netflix, Prime Video, Disney+, etc. combined (68%, according to Ofcom).

Upward trend

A second finding of the research is that the number of consumers acting to limit personal targeting is still growing. Almost a third (29%) of people say they spend more time browsing privately compared to a year ago. And 60% have become more aware of how their personal information might be gathered and used by advertisers in the past three years.

Perhaps unsurprisingly also, younger people are more likely to limit tracking than the general population, suggesting the trend is only set to expand in years to come.

Free content for data - a fair exchange?

Alongside a greater understanding of privacy, people-based targeting and tracking – as well as people blocking them – comes a broader awareness. That is, of the assumed value exchange people-based advertising is based upon - that free content is provided in return for viewing ads – and by extension, sharing your personal data:

When asked if their personal data was a fair exchange for a free service, equal numbers of respondents agreed as disagreed (30%).

However, the vast majority believe change is needed – with 63% saying advertisers should find a better way to make ads relevant that does not rely on collecting personal information.

And if that weren’t enough to convince you of consumer sentiment on this issue, consider for a moment that an awareness of tracking (42%) was cited above even data breaches (31%) or being targeted by online scammers (31%) as the reason for becoming more privacy conscious in the past three years.

Silver lining for advertisers

There is however a huge opportunity for advertisers who are mindful of this changing consumer mindset. More than half (52%) of consumers said they would be more likely to choose a brand if it could prove it never collected or used any personal information for advertising.

In previous research, Nano showed a shift among buyer tactics, from audience targeting to contextual, as signal loss begins to bite. And with this latest report, this trend is cast in an even wider context. A tipping point has arguably been reached – with most users no longer addressable. In fact, the number is even greater than the proportion of UK online consumers using Instagram.

Meanwhile, tactics like contextual targeting that forgo all forms of profiling and personal data are not only unaffected, but also could even increase brand preference. With all of this evidence in tow, is anyone still convinced that “keep calm and carry on tracking” is still the long-term route to success?

It is apparent, at least from these responses, that consumers are demanding a new ad targeting model where the person, and their personal data, is no longer the product.

Download the full report – Tipping Point for Addressable Audiences – the Numbers, People & Methods Behind Opting Out of People-Based Targeting

Brand Strategy Open Mic Third Party Cookie

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Nano Interactive

Global leaders in LIVE, identity-free targeting.

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