Who’s Winning What: The Real Privacy Story In Online Advertising

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“Data-Driven Thinking" is written by members of the media community and contains fresh ideas on the digital revolution in media.

Today’s column is written by Jeff Green, CEO at The Trade Desk.

Mozilla is no longer out alone calling for the end of third-party cookies; others such as Google and Microsoft have joined the fray in recent months.

Google made headlines again for privacy just last week – a $17 million settlement for violating Apple users’ default privacy settings. It’s a telling speed bump in the online advertising industry’s accelerating conversation. Why? Because the whole story – who’s winning what in privacy – hasn’t been told. Here are the players pushing the dialogue, and here’s what they hope to get out of it.

Mozilla (Firefox). About a year ago, Mozilla declared war on third-party cookies and disrupted a quid pro quo that makes the Internet go round. What quid pro quo? The exchange transacted when users access a free Internet and advertisers serve them targeted ads. This means that all the companies that power ad tech that don’t have a strong direct interaction with consumers (so they can set first-party cookies) would be at a disadvantage.

The real story: Mozilla has commandeered the conversation about the quid pro quo and is about to opt-out consumers by default.  Mozilla’s call for an end to third-party cookie tracking disrupted the global Internet economy, where data and ads are currency. They have offered no alternative exchange.

However, they have slowed dramatically in the last few months in implementing tools that reflect their rhetoric from a year ago. Perhaps they are realizing that this issue could risk market share for them as the rubber meets the road.

Google, Apple, Facebook and Microsoft. All of these companies have been in the headlines constantly in the last few weeks and months on the issue of third-party cookies. What hasn’t been called out is that Google, Apple, Facebook and Microsoft don’t need cookies because they are quite good at user identification without the cookie.

The real story: They all want to create as much proprietary advantage as possible, identifying users via a blend of first-party cookies, device IDs, browsers, operating systems and all of the built-for-consumer tools used to bridge their devices. For them, this debate is less about privacy and more about who has the power to identify users.

NAI and DAA. These groups have become influential in this debate, as they are key to creating policy. The NAI and DAA will need to balance the need to satisfy consumers (and respect their privacy), while still enabling effective marketing for those that play by the rules, and give assurances to Congress and potential regulators.

The real story: Because they don’t just represent just publishers or themselves and represent all types of digital advertising players (from advertiser to publisher), these organizations are the most likely to create good policies on opt-out and user identification. They are some of our best chances at bridge building.

IAB and Publishers. This group is strongly opposed to Mozilla’s original approach. Both the Interactive Advertising Bureau (which is a publisher-centric organization) and publishers will play a substantial role in this debate.

The real story: Publishers working together can standardize how the major content producers enable a robust marketplace of ad demand. European publishers may be providing a good example of how to quickly implement a better discourse about the quid pro quo to consumers of ads and data in exchange for top-tier content.

What next?

In the next three to 12 months, I expect that ad-tech players working together and new and straightforward policies from the IAB, NAI and DAA will create a decentralized solution that benefits everyone.

There are solutions in the works -- and I know because I'm a part of them -- that respect users’ privacy, are less invasive than cookies, improve opt-out power and persistence, give users a better experience, give publishers more money and make ads as relevant as ever.

Will influential companies have the courage to do what is best for the Internet vs. just simply trying to create new proprietary advantage? We’ll see.

Follow Jeff Green (@jefftgreen) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

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