Home Privacy The Trade Desk Is Forgoing Public Operators For Unified ID 2.0

The Trade Desk Is Forgoing Public Operators For Unified ID 2.0

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When Jeff Green, CEO of The Trade Desk, talks about Unified ID 2.0, he often speaks as if the framework is a fait accompli. The email-based identity solution was originally developed as an alternative to third-party cookies.

During the company’s most recent earnings call in February, Green declared that UID2 “solves the needle-in-the-haystack problem that came with cookies” and “advertisers can now match their customer data with accuracy across the open internet more effectively than ever before.”

But there are still a lot of unanswered questions and moving parts behind the scenes, including whether there will be any public operators supporting the program.

Prebid, for example, has decided not to serve as public operator for Unified ID 2.0, a decision it made quietly last year.

Hold, please

But let’s take a quick step back.

Originally, three of the most important milestones for UID2 were to open source its code base, recruit at least one independent operator and find an entity to serve as an independent administrator.

One out of three ain’t bad?

The Trade Desk did make the code base for UID2 open source in May 2021. But the hunt for an administrator, which manages access to the UID2 ecosystem, remains ongoing.

In the meantime, The Trade Desk is fulfilling the admin function, which isn’t ideal from an open-source point of view.

But Prebid.org, which had initially signed on to be the first public operator for UID2 in 2021, hit pause on its integration early last year.


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Prebid gives pause

Prebid is an open-source ad tech consortium, and its support was seen at the time as an important catalyst for wider adoption of Unified ID 2.0.

Throughout 2021, Prebid did most of the backend work necessary to be a UID2 operator, as planned, including setting up the necessary hardware and software to create, encrypt and distribute UID2 tokens.

But early last year, the Prebid.org community, which includes buyers, sellers and ad tech vendors, decided it wasn’t appropriate for Prebid to serve as a public operator and play such a central role until The Trade Desk lines up an independent administrator to police the UID2 program.

The administration question “just lingered on and on without being resolved,” said Garrett McGrath, chairman of Prebid’s board and SVP of product management at Magnite. “So, although we did set up the infrastructure, it never came to fruition.”

That’s not to say Prebid has completely abandoned the notion of ever serving as a public operator for UID2 if The Trade Desk is able to work out the admin issue. And Prebid does technically support Unified ID 2.0 in that publishers can pass its identifiers in the header through Prebid’s user ID module.

But UID2 is just one of more than 20 different global identifiers that flow through Prebid’s wrapper, and Prebid has nothing to do with hashing emails, the UID2 tokenization process or decryption.

An overly long to-do listAll of which has to happen before an ID passes through Prebid’s user module and into the bidstream.

Flavors of operators

With the independent admin question still unanswered and no likely candidates on the horizon, it seems doubtful that Prebid will end up serving as an operator for UID2.

But there’s another reason why it may not happen: There’s little market demand for public operators.

Around early last year, when Prebid was starting to get cold feet, The Trade Desk was hearing from potential UID2 partners that they preferred the idea of a private operator setup, which wasn’t included in the original UID2 specs.

Whereas public operators (of which, it should be noted, there aren’t any now that Prebid has pulled out) use an API to access the UID2 service and generate tokens and IDs, private operators run an internal version of the UID2 service. Private operators also only process and hash their own or a client’s first-party data to generate UID2 identifiers within their own tech stack.

The private setup fits with the zeitgeist, said Kanishk Prasad, a senior product manager at The Trade Desk, because businesses are pushing for better data security measures in light of emerging and existing privacy laws.

“The demand from our participants has mainly been to do private operators,” Prasad said. “And so that’s where our focus has been – because it’s what people want – and the result has been a natural evolution of the product.”

With Prebid on ice, private operators are now the only way to transact against UID2 identifiers.

Operation: Privacy

The Trade Desk struck its first private operator partnership in July 2021 with IPG for Acxiom and Kinesso clients. It also has private operator integrations with Paramount, Disney, Optable, Salesforce, Adobe, Snowflake and Amazon Web Services.

But the deal with Amazon Web Services is particularly significant, he said, because it makes it easier for companies to generate and deploy UID2s in a secure environment and directly through the AWS Marketplace with just a few clicks.

“We’re trying to do that sort of thing everywhere we can,” Prasad said.

For a publisher like FuboTV, which was the first CTV platform to join UID2, anything that can assuage concerns over data privacy and security is a selling point with clients, said Lynette Kaylor, Fubo’s SVP of ad sales.

Although advertiser demand to transact against UID2 identifiers hasn’t been consistent, Fubo was able to run tests last year with positive results, including a lower cost per action and a better conversion rate compared with non-UID2 campaigns.

Fubo acts as its own private operator for UID2.

“When you’re dealing with any type of data, you have to be careful about who you’re sending it to and how, and the more parties it goes through, the more concern there is,” Kaylor said. “We’d rather keep it between two parties if we can, rather than adding someone else in the middle.”

Still, one would imagine that having to rely on a multitude of private operators would slow down adoption, even with entities like AWS on board, whereas a partnership with an open-source body like Prebid would position UID2 for faster, more widespread marketplace adoption.

But according to Prasad, the private operator option is better for UID2’s prospects in the long run.

“It’s very important for us to be able to appease the security concerns people have about sending out their user data,” Prasad said. “For that reason, I’d argue that the private operator concept has helped people get more comfortable and actually helped us accelerate.”

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