Home Online Advertising Open Online IDs Compete To Be Ad Tech Standards

Open Online IDs Compete To Be Ad Tech Standards


The past two years have seen a rush of consortiums, coalitions and ad tech products that all hope to standardize online IDs to improve match rates. But industry leaders, for-profit startup and nonprofit initiatives can have very different ideas on how to solve that problem.

“The question is which one of these models will gain critical mass and be a winner or if there will be more of these options proliferating,” said Mike Sands, co-founder and CEO of the identity resolution company Signal.

AdExchanger took a look at the online identifiers that want to be de facto ad tech IDs (in descending order of market adoption), and the specific challenges and opportunities each face to reach that point.

LiveRamp IdentityLink

LiveRamp’s IdentityLink is different from other online IDs, which are cookie-based, because it’s a cross-device ID that incorporates information like mobile device IDs, consumer histories, home addresses and other offline information.

With IdentityLink, LiveRamp hopes to fill the demand for login-quality identifiers, similar to those offered by Google, Amazon and Facebook – though IdentityLink is designed for the open ecosystem.

“IdentityLink is by far the most prevalent (non-walled garden ID) in the market,” said Jay Prasad, VideoAmp’s chief strategy officer. “Almost everyone has a connection into LiveRamp.”

And LiveRamp is more invested in IdentityLink since the company spun out of Acxiom. In November 2018, dataxu and Index Exchange became the first companies to integrate IdentityLink into the bidstream. Instead of the DSP and SSP separately matching cookies to LiveRamp, which inevitably will produce some mismatches due to blocked or erased cookies, dataxu and Index both share IdentityLink at the exchange level. So LiveRamp can make connections without cookies, based on bidstream data, like IP address, Wi-Fi network or device IDs.

Ad tech companies with their own cross-device products bristle at the idea of LiveRamp becoming the identity standard, but they don’t have scaled alternatives – short of doing more business with the walled gardens.

IdentityLink is at the heart of LiveRamp’s goal to grow from $275 million in revenue in 2018 to a billion dollar run rate within five years.

The Trade Desk unified ID


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The Trade Desk has the most scaled cookie-based identifier. Because The Trade Desk traffics large ad budgets and has a strong data marketplace, its identifier is attractive for SSPs and other companies with programmatic revenue, like location data startups or cross-device graphs that need high match rates. 

And The Trade Desk doesn’t see the development of identifiers as a zero-sum game.

“There isn’t an end state with one ID to rule them all,” said Tim Sims, The Trade Desk’s SVP of inventory partnerships. “The problem is to move from hundreds of companies syncing independently to a handful of interoperable options.”

The Trade Desk has elevated its own ID solution while keeping close tabs on other initiatives. For instance, The Trade Desk isn’t a participant in DigiTrust, a cookie-matching consortium operated by the IAB Tech Lab, but as a Tech Lab board member it has visibility into DigiTrust.

The Trade Desk likewise is a quiet board member in the Advertising ID Consortium, which has been helmed by LiveRamp and a rotation of other ad tech companies – MediaMath, AppNexus, Index Exchange and, most recently, dataxu.

The IAB Tech Lab DigiTrust ID

DigiTrust sprang from an IAB working group in 2014 as a way to standardize cookies and increase match rates. After a stint as a standalone nonprofit, it was acquired last year by the IAB Tech Lab.

Within the IAB Tech Lab, DigiTrust is the vehicle for identity-based product development and key policy work, like making inroads with browser operators, which control cookies through their privacy policies, and understanding new online privacy laws.

“I’m more excited about DigiTrust (than other online identifiers) because I think a neutral party should manage identity and because an eventual solution will need to work across so many different stakeholders,” said Greg Loeffelholz, OwnerIQ’s VP of platform management. 

But “eventually” is the key word. Publishers and SSPs have backed DigiTrust, Loeffelholz said, but adding DSPs and DMPs is a challenge because they often sell their own ID or audience-matching product.   

DigiTrust has full supply-chain partners and will publish its first case study this year, said Jordan Mitchell, DigiTrust’s founder and now an IAB SVP.

“The main distinction in my mind (between cookie-based identifiers) is between proprietary IDs and open standards,” he said.

Advertising ID Consortium

The Advertising ID Consortium has had a tumultuous run since it was founded in 2017. MediaMath co-founded the group and promptly quit because the service favors LiveRamp’s IdentityLink; AppNexus, the consortium’s main shared cookie pool, quit following its acquisition by AT&T.

But the consortium is still kicking, and added dataxu CTO Bill Simmons to its board to fill the DSP role lost with AppNexus. Index Exchange and dataxu recently piloted the first campaign using the consortium’s framework and LiveRamp’s IdentityLink, claiming match rates improved by 20% or more with the shared ID.

The consortium is still battling competitive headwinds, since LiveRamp remains the only company that can target audiences based on consortium cookies. 

Simmons said he understands the tension, but that the programmatic ecosystem can’t compete with walled gardens without better match rates and connections to people-based profiles (as opposed to cookie-based identifiers). The consortium could also eventually accommodate LiveRamp competitors, he said, though no other identity services are currently being considered.


The French startup ID5 hopes to be one of a handful of shared IDs to reach critical mass. The company works with a few heavily programmatic media companies like Purch (acquired last year by Future Publishing), Dailymotion and some European publishers, said co-founder and CEO Mathieu Roche.

By housing cookies from those publishers in its identity graph, ID5 can improve match rates with its 40 or so ad tech partners, including Adform, AppNexus and Smart. With scaled demand via ad tech platforms, ID5 is focused on building out its publisher roster.

But identity management and match rates have taken on new urgency for publishers, Roche said, because cookies have depreciated on Safari, Firefox and Chrome browsers. He said ad tech companies like Index Exchange and LiveRamp and the Tech Lab’s DigiTrust working groups have also helped educate media companies on the technical implementations.

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