Who Tracks The Trackers?; The Digital Adpocalypse That Never Was

Keeping Track

Third-party trackers were hosed by GDPR, right? 

Perhaps not. 

A University of Oxford study found that third-party trackers in Google Play and Apple iOS apps remain relatively unchanged.

“The same handful of third-party tracking companies have similar prevalence and prominence,” according to the Internet Policy Review journal. The number of apps with zero trackers actually dropped by 3%. 

The data “suggests widespread infringements of the GDPR” remain commonplace, since third-party tracking is so high despite seemingly high opt-outs and considering trackers still aggregate user data across jurisdictions (i.e., between the US and Europe).

The report also notes the large number of rebrands and name changes (11 this year) among top tracking companies. Amazon Marketing Services became Amazon Advertising; Microsoft rebranded its App Center; Facebook is now Meta; and Verizon renamed its media business, previously Oath, before selling it off as a rebranded Yahoo. Just to name a few. Google’s (ahem, Alphabet’s) ad tech units constantly change names – the market still uses “DoubleClick,” though, because who can be bothered to keep up?

These companies understand the power of branding. Name changes – even among the well-known brands – can be a tactic to deflect attention.

Doom And Boom

The ad industry has changed its tune since earlier this year when it was all doom and gloom about the demise of third-party identifiers, according to a newsletter by Mike Shields.

Now, optimism abounds based on reports of a surge in digital advertising and driven by the promise of CTV and retail media budgets. 

GroupM’s current projection of 20% advertising growth in 2022 offers a much rosier outlook than the 12% growth it projected for 2021.

But some solutions that were supposed to save advertising from a cookieless future haven’t taken root – not yet, at least.

The most prominent industry identifier, UID 2.0, still hasn’t gained the traction necessary to serve as a viable alternative to third-party cookies. And what was once considered an up-and-coming universal standard for post-cookie advertising may turn out to be incompatible with the GDPR. That’s a major roadblock to universal adoption, to say the least.

Rather than try many of the alternative identifiers, brands have mostly done business directly with publishers that have deep first-party data sets, like social platforms, CTV services and online retailers. 

This brave new world of first-party data may be a scary one for digital media companies that built their empires on third-party IDs rather than opted-in audiences.

May I Borrow Your Talent?

The ad industry, like everyone else, saw high employee churn in 2021. You’ve heard of the “Great Resignation.”

Although there’s been major growth in digital advertising, one of the biggest things holding agency tech and media companies back is the hiring challenge.

From layoffs to burnouts, the total employee loss tallies up into the thousands, Insider reports. The subsequent hiring rush led to the emergence of what Insider calls “talent-as-a-service platforms” whose employees work for staffing firms while also supporting another short-staffed business. 

Some of these platforms are receiving a lot of funding from venture investors and private equity. WorkReduce, for example, boasts big agency clients, including Publicis, WPP and Dentsu, Marketing Brew reports.

Whatever the source, strong talent sourcing will help prime the industry to continue its upward trend. After all, “buying ads on Facebook isn’t rocket science,” WorkReduce CEO Brian Dolan told Marketing Brew.

But Wait, There’s More!

Religion apps attract VC investors looking to monetize tight-knit user communities. [WSJ]

GSQi: Analysis of Google’s December 2021 product review update rollout. [blog]

The internet runs on free open-source software. Who pays to fix it? [MIT Tech Review]

Amazon changes could signal a new era for its grocery business. [The Information]

You’re Hired!

VideoAmp brings on Kelly McMahon as SVP of client success. [release]

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