Where The 'Cookie Apocalypse' Will Go

"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 Julian Baring, general manager, North America, at Adform.

Some point to browser privacy changes and comments from regulators as evidence that real-time bidding and tracking are ending. Indeed, the long-anticipated “death of the cookie” seems to be at hand.

While it would also be misleading to suggest there aren’t any changes on the horizon, the truth, as ever, is somewhere in the middle. There will be welcome and significant changes that come with improved consumer control, but the notion that real-time bidding and tracking will come to an end is hyperbolic, to say the least.

Of course, users should be able to decide what happens with their data. While there is some resentment against tracking, 71% of consumers prefer ads to be targeted to their interests and shopping habits, according to the IAB, and three out of four consumers prefer fewer but more personalized ads.

The digital advertising industry needs to ensure it can continue to target by interests, frequency cap and measure effectiveness while also ensuring users can either consent to personalized advertising or opt out. In 2020, our industry will see a great deal of new regulations targeted to preserving and enhancing consumer control of data. But aside from regulatory implications, we’ll also see the industry advance on a number of fronts.

Google holds steady

While impossible to know what Google will do, in keeping with Google’s own communication, I believe there will be no major impact on Chrome tracking in the near future.

Although some change is expected from the company’s increased privacy-friendly settings, Google’s primary revenue model is based on advertising so it would be the height of hypocrisy for Google to ban third-party cookies in its own browser environment – which would also likely invite future antitrust investigations. The SameSite changes coming to Chrome in early February are about increasing web security, and implications that they could represent a prelude to third-party cookie blocking are just speculation at this point.

Crackdowns continue elsewhere 

Safari and Firefox will continue to crack down on fingerprinting, cookieless tracking and similar cookie alternatives such as local storage objects. I expect Safari will ultimately release features allowing privacy-friendly tools for ad tech to measure advertising performance. If marketers don’t have the ability to frequency cap or manage the number of pre-rolls a user sees before consuming content, we can count on increased consumer alienation and advertising blindness. Nobody wins in this scenario.

Frameworks adopted

Most European properties, including Google’s, will be using the IAB Transparency and Consent Framework version 2.0 by mid-2020. CCPA will be coming into effect as you read this, and US-based companies are scrambling to sign up to the IAB’s CCPA frameworks and build tools to ensure consumers can delete their data, as European companies had to do previously for GDPR compliance.

Consent required

Eventually all websites, including a brand’s own websites, will be forced by regulators to ask for explicit consent before setting cookies. It’s hard to predict when a strict-enough ruling will trigger this requirement, but I do not think it will happen before mid-2020.

We are all familiar with clicking consent boxes. However, it will take a bad actor getting penalized with a hefty fine and used as an example for not abiding by consent signals for the industry to finally start thinking about consumers, consent and data as a tangible value exchange, rather than a box that needs to be ticked.

Consortia to the rescue

While all of this will lead to a higher rate of opted-out users, cross-publisher support of a first-party ID will lead to better quality data and targeting. We will see a range of new publisher consortia pop up, particularly on a national basis in Europe, as well as global solutions like the DigiTrust ID or BritePool in the United States. These consortia are working proactively with publishers and advertisers to ensure they are updating their websites, properly informing their consumers and retaining the necessary permission to ensure we can continue to deliver a valuable “product” as an industry to consumers.

Collectively, the ad tech industry is working to address legitimate privacy concerns by providing solutions that protect the integrity of users. Rather than hinder and disable digital advertising, the changes in browser functionality and the correct implementation of privacy law will alter digital advertising for the better, creating a brighter future for everyone involved in the ad tech ecosystem, including better informed users.

The one thing we can be certain of will be continuous evolution. I expect that these changes will educate, empower and hopefully put the consumer in a greater position of control and knowledge. A vibrant and crucially diverse media industry is mutually dependent on an empowered consumer recognizing the importance of tools that allow marketing to be measured, targeted and relevant.

Follow Julian Baring (@Baring), Adform (@adform) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

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