Why the Cookiepocolypse Actually Affirms the Open Web

By Michael Gorman, SVP, Product, BD and Marketing at ShareThis

When a market behemoth makes an unexpected move, there is always a bit of a flurry, so it is not surprising to see all the chatter and concern that followed Google’s step to clarify how in the future they will approach identity in advertising.  In a blog post, a Google leader stated that, once cookies are phased out, “we will not build alternate identifiers to track individuals as they browse across the web, nor will we use them in our products.”  In other words, Google will not use customers’ names, addresses, and phone numbers in their advertising products.

Why is that important? For one thing, it represents a commitment by Google not to provide one privacy-friendly solution for others to use while using its extensive customer data in ways it would not support.  But there is a deeper thread to the story.  My friends at The Trade Desk compared Google’s move to a chess match, which I think is quite astute.

In chess, you sometimes trade less valuable pieces for a better position on the board.  In this game, Google is doubling down on owned properties — primarily search and YouTube — and adding bricks to the walls around those properties.  They are also aligning Chrome to more closely matching the consumer-friendly privacy management practices of its competitors.  The trade-off is that Google is willing to forgo the revenues that would come from competing harder to maintain its role serving ads for the rest of the internet.  It appears that this role is seen as less valuable in their long game than it once did.

So if you’re a marketer, this might raise fears that Google’s move will negatively impact the scale and reach of programmatic. After all, the biggest player in the space is backing away from a core value prop of the medium, namely, precision and transparency.

The good news is that Google’s efforts propelled the open web to come together to create new ways to support advertisers that will preserve some of what’s best about programmatic advertising today. The evolving solutions also aim to deliver a more transparent value proposition and experience for consumers.  And yes, publishers and advertisers will make use of identifiers, provided by their customers, in the course of providing these services.

The truth is, header bidding and direct deals between advertisers and publishers have progressively reduced Google’s role as a programmatic market maker.  As an industry we’re overdue on tackling the issue of identity, so it’s time.

Marketers are — once again — in the power seat to help drive solutions that align with their needs, and there is no better time than to have those dialogues when solutions are still in the developmental mode.

In order to put yourself on a good path as a marketer, it will be good to focus on a few core areas.

First and foremost is measurement. If you are a sophisticated marketer, this is going to be your compass to figure out your transition. By solidifying your future approach to measurement, you can clarify your needs in terms of use of identifiers as well as other components of your customer acquisition and communications workflow.  With a measurement approach solidified, you can turn to existing core vendors to ensure they are positioned to meet your evolving needs, and monitor their milestones as they put in place the new approaches that will preserve transparency and accountability.

There is also imperative to return to the source, where the content lives. Content owners have a legitimate basis, through their visitor relationships and their stated policies, to share data in ways that fund their businesses, including obtaining the right to use identifiers for that purpose. There will be a flight to quality and the safe position will be found by deepening publisher relationships to ensure access to audiences to support future customer acquisition.

And of course, nailing down your approach to collecting, permissioning, and deploying any customer data you obtain in the course of serving customers is a baseline for moving ahead.  Your own customer data will provide the hooks through which you will connect to the ecosystem as it changes.

Once clear on measurement, vendor strategies, core publisher relationships, and your customer data, you are empowered to test and trial new solutions.  There is a lot of innovation underway that aims to close any gaps that do open up in terms of scale, access and measurability, with new and more privacy-sensitive approaches.

The more conversations we have across the ecosystem, the more confidence we gain that the changes coming about will lead to a stronger open internet, one founded on the firmer ground of service providers who are committed to all their customers – be they creators, consumers, and connectors.

Finally, it’s important to highlight that Google is not abandoning advertising, but rather proposing less precise and transparent (to advertisers), more privacy-friendly alternatives under the banner of its Privacy Sandbox.  As we’ve written elsewhere, we’re excited about the Privacy Sandbox, and appreciate Google’s efforts to engage the industry as it designs them.  We will be testing FloC and Turtledove as they emerge.  But no matter how well-intentioned and designed, there are needs these solutions will not address.  And even if every use case were immaculately accommodated, the evolution of Privacy Sandbox simply cannot occur fast enough to fully and immediately accommodate the massive demand represented by the global programmatic advertising marketplace.

Fortunately, the future of the open web is not dependent on Google alone, but on a thriving ecosystem of dedicated technology and service providers, and they are stepping up.