Command your cookies: Website tag governance


Tag governance in privacy compliance


In the digital world, every interaction is a potential source of insight. The unobtrusive lines of code known as tags, pixels and scripts can play a significant role in harnessing this information and driving business decisions. 


Digital handlers, the teams responsible for managing digital insights, capture each user’s online behavior and context so that organizations can finely tune marketing strategies and operational tactics. However, the power of data comes with the responsibility of governance, particularly in the face of privacy concerns and regulatory demands. The challenge of identifying and correlating tags to cookies on a website adds a layer of complexity, highlighting the need for comprehensive oversight.


This evolving landscape calls for robust strategies that balance privacy, regulations and technological innovation. This makes tag governance not just a technical endeavor but also a compliance obligation.




Beyond the consent banner


In the wake of regulations such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) and California Privacy Rights Act (CPRA), implementing cookie consent  has become an essential part of compliance for businesses across all industries. These regulations have introduced distinct regional consent models that impact how organizations collect data, derive analytics and track their users.


The real complexity in implementing cookie consent isn't just about setting up a consent banner, but rather about managing the intricate web of analytics and tracking within the domain. The analytics and tracking elements can manifest themselves on a domain in a variety of forms but, at a high level, are defined as the following:

  • Cookies
    A cookie is a small data file stored by a web browser and used for tracking and personalization. Cookies are used to remember stateful information (information about the state of a user’s interaction with the site), track browsing activity and manage sessions. Cookies enable websites to offer personalized experiences by storing user preferences, login details, and other data.
  • Pixels
    A pixel is a 1x1 image or code snippet for tracking user behavior and interactions. It is often invisible to the user, but can send information back to the server when loaded. This information can include details like user behavior, device type and other interactions. Marketers use pixels for tracking conversations, retargeting and to gather data on user activity.
  • Tags
    A tag is a code snippet embedded in web pages for data collection and feature integration. Generally, tags are inserted into the HTML of a webpage to collect data or integrate third-party features. Tags can be used for a variety of purposes, including analytics, tracking, user behavior monitoring and advertising. They are the backbone of many web analytics, digital marketing and personalization services.


The challenge lies in ensuring that these elements align with user consent and legal norms. Intensive tag governance becomes a pivotal strategy in achieving compliance. This approach goes beyond consent mechanisms and focuses on understanding and controlling the underlying elements of a website, such as tags, tracking pixels and cookies.


For firms conscientious about privacy and data protection, the focus on tag governance is a key building block to not only meet legal obligations but also foster trust among increasingly privacy-aware customers.




Tag governance in focus


Historically, the combination of cookies, pixels and tags has been indispensable for marketing data collection. However, governance around these tags has often been overlooked. The need for organized tag libraries is now more pronounced than ever. A robust governance model takes into consideration the various aspects of a tag throughout its lifecycle. While not limited to just these sections, a successful model includes key aspects such as:

  • Inventory and documentation
    Create a comprehensive listing and explanation of tags, pixels and scripts to ensure clear comprehension and compliance with regulatory standards. A comprehensive inventory includes compliance context, such as the purpose of the tag, what data or information is collected and a mapping to either a specific cookie or general compliance category. These categories often align with cookie compliance categories (targeting, analytics, performance, functional and strictly necessary), functioning as a mapping between the two elements.
  • Monitoring and auditing
    Engage in continuous assessment and review for compliance, performance and privacy, encompassing the responsibilities of third-party vendors. Semi-annual audits, depending on the number of elements and frequency of updates, generally help organizations limit the data they collect — and create more meaningful insights. This allows the organization to understand what campaigns are active and in use, while maintaining an organized approach to using cookies.
  • Implementation process
    Employ a strategic approach that aligns with privacy considerations, ensuring complete integration across marketing and various technology teams. New campaigns should undergo the necessary approvals and compliance considerations early in the marketing technology development lifecycle. Enforcing compliance by design reduces the number of challenges an organization will face later in the development lifecycle while minimizing the risk of non-compliance.
  • Vendor management
    Coordinate with third-party entities to affirm the correct configuration approach and the honoring of user consents. It is important to outline a shared responsibility matrix and refer to contractual obligations when allowing third parties to integrate on a domain. Ultimately, it is important to understand what data they are collecting and how they intend to use it. Setting expectations for which party should implement and manage the compliance aspects of cookies, tags and scripts is a foundational step in maturing a cookie consent program.


By focusing on these aspects, businesses can build a robust framework for tag governance that not only meets legal obligations but also enhances efficiency and fosters trust among increasingly privacy-aware customers.




Next steps


The importance of tags pixels, and scripts in driving business decisions has become clear, and the need for proper management and governance is undeniable. Likewise, the new privacy regulations have made cookie consent more complex, requiring thoughtful integration of analytics within legal boundaries. Together, these aspects highlight a practical need for businesses to focus on both the technology of data collection and the rules governing privacy.


The challenges may be intricate, but with attention to governance and compliance, they can be navigated effectively. In addition to the strategic implementation of tag governance, to sustain the program long-term, your organization should consider the following as part of its next steps tackling cookie compliance:

  1. Continually monitor the regulatory landscape
    Regularly monitor both domestic and international privacy regulations to adapt your data collection and processing practices. Consider a global posture for compliance and the effects future regulations can have on the current implementation architecture. Implement training programs to update employees and implementation architects on compliance requirements to ensure the business stays ahead of the curve.
  1. Refine your tag management process
    Invest in refining the tagging, pixel and script management processes to include compliance checkpoints and end-to-end record keeping. Performing scans of all organizational websites on a defined basis will help identify any new cookies and will aid in demonstrating adherence to regulations during audits or assessments. Develop a systematic process that includes pre-implementation audits to identify potential privacy risks, a set of guidelines for compliant tagging, and robust documentation for each tag’s purpose and data collection scope. This can be complemented by periodic internal or external audits to validate ongoing compliance.
  1. Foster cross-departmental collaboration
    Encourage continuous dialogue and collaboration between the technology, marketing and legal departments. This ensures that all teams are aligned and updated on privacy requirements, thereby reducing the risk of non-compliance. Create a shared repository of resources and documentation to facilitate better communication and understanding among these departments. Consider forming a Privacy Task Force to oversee how data is collected, stored and used, ensuring that every department’s role and defined actions are in line with the latest data privacy requirements and organization policies.


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