It’s December 31st, 1999 — aka Millennium Eve.

Some are partying like it’s 1999, others are eating rice in their bug out.

Will Smith’s “Miami” fades into the background as the countdown begins. 

“Three, two, one…!” The clock strikes midnight. The world holds its breath.

Nothing happens — no planes falling from the sky, mass power outages, or global financial collapse. “Y2K” was nothing more than a specter of fear – the only thing left to worry about was our hangovers. 

Let’s Learn The Lesson

Looking back, the Y2K Bug seems like a joke, but it’s easy to see similarities between the panic it caused and current concerns about what Google’s cookie deprecation means for the advertising industry.

The fear was that the two-digit year format early coders had used to minimize memory usage would clash with the change of millennium, with computers interpreting “00” as 1900 instead of 2000 and creating pandemonium in the world’s computing systems. 

And perhaps it would have, had it not been for teams of programmers all around the world who spent at least a decade preparing for the event. The United States spent 100 billion dollars alone upgrading tech and processes still in use from 1999.  By the time the media began fanning mass hysteria, the necessary updates and fixes had largely been implemented, averting the catastrophe that many had feared, but the news story was better than the reality, and it is looping the playbook today. 

The Y2K crisis didn’t happen precisely because people started preparing for it over a decade in advance. And the general public who was busy stocking up on supplies and stuff just didn’t have a sense that the programmers were on the job,” Paul Saffo, a futurist and adjunct professor at Stanford University, told Time magazine.

The Cookie Has Been Crumbling for Years

None of this is a surprise to people in ad tech; it’s just more entertaining to believe we were caught with our pants down. Third-party cookies were originally developed for shopping, and the advertising ecosystem took advantage of this technology for inappropriate uses. Because cookies weren’t designed for advertising purposes, there were flaws and vulnerabilities that would eventually lead to the cookie crumbling — including the fact that Google and Apple, the owners of the most popular browsers, owned the technology and had the power to make decisions for the entire industry. 

Just like the experts working behind the scenes to avert the Y2K disaster, advertisers have been preparing for the cookieless future for over a decade. With the advent of mobile apps and Connected TV, which both run without cookies, advertisers began turning to alternative identifiers like IP addresses and device IDs.

I’m tired of articles designed to scare people – wrapping them up in minutia while ignoring the bigger picture.  The media is multiplying fears while in the background the advertising industry is preparing for the cookieless future the same way programmers in 1999 prepared for Y2K.

And just like Y2K, cookie deprecation — when it finally arrives — is likely to be more of a whimper than a bang, and suddenly the next disaster will start heading straight for our doorstep.