When I were a lad, if anyone mentioned pixels they were usually talking about the supported resolution of the Nintendo 64. As I got older, pixels became mega, and I wanted a camera with as many of them as possible.

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These days, when someone mentions pixels, I think of digital marketing. Specifically, little bits of code that sit in the background of most websites to monitor our every move. Google, Facebook, Bing, LinkedIn, Twitter, AdRoll… these are just a handful of the common tracking pixels you will find on many websites these days.

Tracking pixels are used to store information about you and your browsing behaviour. Everything is tracked from the websites you visit, the operating system you use, your device type, the screen resolution, your IP address, and what you click on is all tracked.

The cookie monster

Pixels are similar to cookies except the data collected isn’t stored locally on your device, as it is with cookies. Instead, the data is sent to and stored on a server where the data can then be processed and shared with other servers, such as an advertising platform. Whereas cookies are used to store login credentials or to let web analytics know you’re a returning user, pixels are used to track online conversions or serve remarketing ads (amongst other things)

While marketers love pixels, they have been in the crosshairs of privacy advocates for a long time due to the sheer volume of data that is collected about each of us. Now, the tech giants taking steps to change the way we are tracked online.

Google crushes third-party cookies

Google has proposed a new method of targeting users which relies less on monitoring individuals and more on grouping users together in what they are calling Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC). Advertisers are yet to pass up their verdict on the new system but Electronic Freedom Frontier, a digital civil liberties campaign group,  says the new system is a “terrible idea” and that FLoC is “the opposite of privacy-preserving technology.” Ouch.

Apple goes after Facebook

The battle between Apple and Facebook continues, as Apple insists it is a defender of individual’s privacy while Facebook looks to monetise its users. The most recent twist in the saga has seen Apple announce iOS users must opt-in to advertising tracking pixels. Unsurprisingly, this has rankled Facebook which relies heavily on device tracking for some of its advertising products.

What does this mean for your business?

Probably not a huge amount right now. Unless you’re spending vast sums on display advertising or you are an app developer reliant on selling ad space via Facebook’s ad network, it’s unlikely that you’ll notice anything in the near term.

In the longer term, expect the digital advertising landscape to become even more fragmented as the major ad networks (Facebook, Google, etc) close shop and look to take more control of user data while limiting third-party access to data.

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