In August of 2019 Google Chrome announced a new initiative called Privacy Sandbox which it described as a set of open standards to fundamentally enhance privacy on the web. The stated goal was to make browsing the web more private and secure for end-users while still supporting publishers by storing individual user-level data. This would enable personalization without exposing raw user-level information, according to Google.
On January 14, the company doubled down on its previous privacy pledge, indicating that the continued iteration of the Privacy Sandbox capabilities should render all third-party cookies obsolete within two years. The announcement surprised a lot of people because it was a departure from the status quo. It’s a completely different strategy than that of other browser providers, which simply turned off third-party cookies by default.
While the success of this phase-out is dependent on the next two years of development, testing and verification, publishers, agencies and advertisers are confused and nervous about how this will play out.
Analysts, too, are taking a wait-and-see approach. “It feels like a solution that sets Google in a power position to essentially be able to dictate—more than I think the ad tech ecosystem anticipated would happen—how this will play out,” said Forrester Research VP and Principal Analyst Joanna O’Connell in a recent Featured Insight. “It also makes the rest of the ad tech ecosystem even more dependent on playing with Google because the third-party cookie is, for all of its faults, the underlying mechanism by which the whole digital advertising ecosystem transacts and communicates.”
Here at Neustar, we agree. And while we believe that this is a step towards transforming the marketing ecosystem into one that’s identity agnostic rather than one that relies on an unstable marker there’s still some concern. How can we be sure that Google doesn’t use this as an excuse to build on to its already high walled garden?
Yes, a cookie-less world is beneficial because it leads to an identity-centric approach, which we have seen to be a more effective approach to marketing. When you stop focusing on the cookie and instead focus on the consumer’s overall journey you have more insight and control.
This is why we’ve always supported an identity-centric approach to marketing, and why we feel hopeful that we can collectively move towards a paradigm that empowers everyone.
Working together, benefitting all
That said there is much work to be done. As we move forward, advertisers and agencies — especially those looking to work with a more diverse publisher ecosystem—are going to need us and other industry leaders in the technology space. They will need us to work with Google as well as the other walled gardens to get as much granular information as possible as quickly as possible to facilitate better ad targeting and measurement.
We also have strong relationships with many of the leading publishers in the ecosystem and we consider the breadth of our partnerships, including those with walled gardens, to be a competitive strength (as does Forrester).
Google’s announcement means that the ad tech ecosystem has been split into two factions: those who have offline identity (PII) and those who do not. For companies with offline identity, such as Neustar, there is a clear path forward for growth and opportunity to provide privacy-controlled and improved data strategy, audience creation, activation and measurement across the ecosystem. For companies without offline identity, including both data management platforms (DMP) and multi-channel attribution (MTA) vendors, it will be imperative to quickly partner or pivot to maintain data access within the ecosystem. This is a clear evolve or die moment.
We are able to be a strategic partner because our technology and solutions already address the issue of offline identity. We’re delivering today what Google is working on providing for Chrome users in the future. Namely a single source of robust, person-based data that has been securely pseudonymized to protect consumer privacy.
It’s a challenging time with so much uncertainty and there’s a lot at stake. As Forrester’s O’Connell reminded us, many in the ad tech world were caught completely off-guard by the announcement. Many, she says, will be scrambling. However, those organizations that step back, reassess their advertising program and align with knowledgeable, capable partners have significantly less to lose (and a lot to gain) as the era of cookies comes to an end.
Read the full, original version of this post on the Neustar blog.