Ad Age: How Digital Media Can Get Serious About Building Transparency, Privacy and Neutrality in a Post-Cookie World

Written by Sigvart Voss Eriksen, published in Ad Age on June 3, 2020.

Google’s sunsetting of third-party cookies gives us an opportunity to shape our long-term future

Just three months ago, before the world was upended by a global pandemic, Google announced it would remove third-party cookies from the Chrome browser within the next two years. 

For those of us who work in the industry, the announcement signaled the beginning of the end for an era that stretches back more than two decades. The third-party cookie has long been digital marketing’s most-utilized tool for the value exchange between consumers and publishers across the web. Soon it will be gone.

While the dissolution of the third-party cookie will be a big change, such change is often a good thing. Google’s sunsetting of third-party cookies gives us an opportunity to shape our long-term future.

As an industry-wide collective, we can take this time to build a more transparent, more accurate identity framework, and a digital advertising ecosystem that delivers more for all its stakeholders. But first, we need to know what we’re striving for.

The perils of Google Sandbox

In the wake of its announcement, Google offered a set of proposals in its Privacy Sandbox to help advertisers identify and target consumers via a series of anonymous data feeds.

While this might seem like a good idea, it would mean that many of the most effective targeting and personalization strategies would be severely limited or wholly unavailable to marketers who don’t have access to first-party data.

 

Another challenge is that marketers would get access to high-level, generalized measurement data, but not the granular information they need to fully optimize their media-
buying strategies. 

Simply put, the proposals in Sandbox might fall short of what our industry needs to be successful. We can and must do better, together. 

 

Charting a better course

Rather than rely on a single solution to replace the third-party cookie, it’s up to us to create an open, interoperable digital landscape that’s fair and efficient for all participants. 

A viable path ahead, inclusive of advertisers, publishers, technology vendors and other stakeholders, means coming together to create an ecosystem rooted in three core values: privacy, transparency and neutrality. Here’s what we should be working toward:

Privacy

With the introductions of the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation and the California Consumer Privacy Act earlier this year, consumers have become much more savvy about how their data is collected and shared. They now hold higher expectations for advertisers and publishers that handle their data and personal information.

It’s incumbent on us to meet these expectations with clear, transparent opt-ins and opt-outs and readily accessible privacy policies. Also, we must make sure that consumer choices are passed along the value chain when their data is shared with additional partners.

Transparency

Over the last few years, advertisers have worked hard to build sophisticated, data-driven attribution metrics that allow them to better understand performance and spend. Without deep transparency into the granular details of transactions, we’ll lose these valuable additions to their tool kits.

In order for digital advertising to flourish, marketers and publishers need to know what happens under the hood of their transactions. This means that whatever systems we build need to give advertisers the ability to trace their ad buys to the publishers they run on as well as the consumers who see their content and ads.

In addition, new solutions that are geared to replace the third-party cookie should be transparent regarding their data sources, ensuring a solution that is truly independent of the very data we are moving away from.

Neutrality

Digital advertising has benefited a great deal from being an open ecosystem, and the ecosystem’s low barriers to entry have spurred innovation and empowered technology providers of all sizes to compete on even footing.

Inside this environment, brands and agencies enjoy the flexibility to make bets on smaller companies that frequently offer great products before bigger companies do. We need to preserve an open ecosystem where these companies can continue to thrive.

If we fail to do so, we risk digital marketers having less control and insight into the data they utilize for multiple-use cases, as well as potentially having a single entity monopolizing the industry—resulting in limited creative problem-solving and innovative technology. We can’t let that happen.

Preserving a fair exchange

At the end of the day, everything we have is built on the promise of a fair exchange: The consumer offers information and attention in exchange for free content from the publisher, and the advertiser pays the publisher for the opportunity to reach its target audiences.

We’ll be well-positioned for long-term stability so long as we remain focused on our core values of privacy, transparency and neutrality. By building a new identity ecosystem with these values in mind, we’ll be able to not only preserve this exchange for years to come, but establish a foundation for continued innovation and growth. 

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