The Two Approaches To Identity, And What They Mean For Pubs

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 Joel Meyer, Chief Architect at OpenX. 

While there’s no clear cut answer around what the future of audience targeting will look like, practically every proposal is supported by one of two opposing core beliefs.

The first is the belief that the only way to fully protect a user is to make them anonymous, a task that must be accomplished by the browser or device used to consume content. Let’s call this the “Browser/Device Belief”. In proposals falling under this belief, the user is anonymous and the browser/device develops functionality to facilitate advertising. Google’s TURTLEDOVE and Apple’s SKAdNetwork are prime examples of this. It’s also worth noting that Google and Apple control the majority of browsers and operating systems used today.

The second belief holds that an informed and empowered user, with controls and transparency, can implement the privacy they desire while better understanding the value exchange powering the open web. Let’s call this belief the “user belief”, as the proposals motivated by it strive to educate the user and give them more control without requiring them to be completely anonymous. An example of this is Unified ID 2.0, which gives the user the ability to centrally manage and delete their information in exchange for providing vendors access to a stable identifier.

So what are the pros/cons of each solution?

Browser/Device Belief Solutions

In these solutions, the client (i.e. the browser or device) anonymizes the user by removing any vectors that allow a user to be passively identified. This ensures privacy by default and prevents bad actors from tracking the user against their will. It also places very little extra burden on the user – the browser/device transparently anonymizes them and the user does not need to worry about how it actually happens.

While these approaches protect the user without requiring anything of them (other than potentially updating their browser/device settings), there are several concerns.

First, as noted above, most clients used to consume content are controlled by Google (Chrome and Android) and Apple (Safari and iOS). So these tech giants, who already have walled gardens of a significant size, gain more power, which goes against what almost everyone else in the industry is looking for, and exacerbates concerns publishers and marketers have about a lack of competition and choice.

Second, it increases the complexity of the advertising ecosystem. For example, in the TURTLEDOVE class of proposals, the browser must develop significant logic to support advertising use cases. It also needs to cache creatives in multiple sizes and formats, and it needs to send an increased number of ad requests.

Marketers struggling to find the most direct and valuable path to inventory are going to have an even harder time, and ad tech vendors will need to develop even more complex technology to support an ecosystem where it is already difficult to optimize and track campaign effectiveness.

User Belief Solutions:

The “User Belief” solutions would create a common currency for targeting and attribution – bringing something to the open web that has historically only been possible in the walled gardens.

If executed correctly, the user would get a level of control and transparency not previously possible, and publishers would gain the opportunity to establish a transparent and consent-based relationship with their users based on a fair value trade (content/service for authentication) while helping educate them about the value exchange that funds the content they consume.

However, this approach faces challenges as well.

First, users need a service that they can trust and use nearly ubiquitously. Remembering logins, implementing privacy settings, and managing consent across a dozen different single sign-ons is not ideal. This is not an argument against a diversity of identity solutions, but a reminder that we will need broad adoption of a number of them.

Second, depending on the vertical, many publishers have difficulty getting users to authenticate directly with them, so they will need to be able to easily integrate with the available identity solutions and provide users a very lightweight authentication experience. Getting scale with this will be challenging, though as Prebid.js has shown, not impossible.

Finally, identity solutions must be managed in a way that engenders trust with the parties that rely on them. Users need to know their information is accessible only to entities they allow. Publishers need to know a critical service they depend on is reliable. Ad tech participants need to know that fraud won’t be tolerated. And these things need to be true for all ID services that are adopted.

So what’s next?

As publishers grapple with these two competing approaches, there are a few specific things they can do to help prepare for the future.

First and most importantly, those impacted by the death of the cookie should educate themselves on the different solutions being proposed for browsers, IDs and alternatives like contextual targeting. Understand what your tech partners are doing to prepare, and see what seems to be gaining traction.

Second, publishers should deepen relationships with marketers. By staying close to the demand side, publishers can see which solutions are being adopted and where budgets are shifting, indicating where publishers should shift focus and resources. Private marketplace deals will also become an even bigger focus for many publishers in 2021 as they look to stay top of mind and drive deal revenue even after cookies disappear.

Third, publishers should talk to their SSP partners to understand ID activation capabilities for both pubs and marketers. As different industry solutions emerge as “the winners,” pubs need to be sure their partners have the pipes to capitalize.

Finally, we should change expectations. The way we do targeting and attribution on campaigns today won’t be the same when cookies go away and it may take a long time to reestablish KPI’s and benchmarks. Understanding that we’re all figuring this out together can go a long way towards making sure that we end up in a place that works for everyone.

Follow OpenX (@OpenX) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.



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