Third-party cookies helped make the web what it is. These ubiquitous text files have acted as surrogates for the identity of web users online. They’ve created a pool of information which, once worked through adtech platforms, have delivered vast addressable audiences. These audiences have allowed brands to target and retarget specific segments at scale, underpinning digital programmatic advertising and by extension the ad-funded internet.
And now, third-party cookies are being shown the door – a guest to the digital party that has outstayed its welcome. Google has announced plans to stop using tracking cookies on its Chrome browser by 2022, while Apple and Mozilla have blocked third-party cookies since 2019. Microsoft blocks third-party cookies on Edge from sites users haven’t visited by default.
We all know the reason. Third-party cookies are a little too intrusive for the GDPR-defined, privacy-first future of the web. But if their demise is understandable, that in no way lessens the impact on advertisers. Without large addressable audiences and their associated audience segments, digital advertising runs the risk of reverting to expensive “spray and pray” advertising techniques, or at best relying only on context as a proxy for identity.
The case for innovation
None of the current fallbacks appear sufficiently robust to support programmatic at scale. While Google, Facebook, Amazon and the like are able to build addressable audiences through authenticated log-ins, these audiences are restricted to the walled gardens. Advertisers value this data, but they also need alternatives that extend to the wider open web.
Scale is also a challenge with authenticated identifiers, such as Universally Unique IDs. With these IDs users have to agree to be authenticated, which is something that only around 20% of people are likely to do. Another approach to building addressable audiences is to infer identity by recognising the “fingerprint” of a device – identify the device and you identify a user. However, privacy concerns around inferred identifiers are already leading to some browser owners installing anti-fingerprinting technology.
The adtech ecosystem is therefore working hard to find an alternative, privacy-first way to deliver large scale addressable audiences on the open web. Significantly, any new approach cannot be just another third-party identifier. This is because Google, which accounts for around 70% of browser usage, has said it will no longer support hashed emails or phone numbers in its stack.
The first-party future
The solution to this challenge lies in what Google will continue to support: first-party cookies. On their own, first-part cookies are of fairly limited value when it comes to building addressable audiences because they are session-based and unable to support cross-device user recognition. However, when you add a pinch of adtech innovation and cross-industry collaboration into the mix, first-party cookies become the foundation of a highly promising solution.
Essentially, what’s needed is a way to match publishers’ or brands’ first-party cookies with identities across devices and across the web in a privacy-first way. Novatiq has found the way. Our approach is to use our patented in-network first-party verification ID to join the dots between the user’s first-party cookies. With this approach, no personally identifiable information is transacted – all that occurs is that a telco verifies that an anonymised publisher ID matches an anonymous user on its network.
Using privacy-safe telco information in this way, a publisher or brand can see who is visiting their site/app and identify return visits – irrespective of which device they’ve used to connect. Publishers and brands can thereby confirm audience IDs, across both authenticated and unauthenticated users on the open web. That in turn means they can provide marketers with addressable audiences at scale that can be activated in real-time.
As third-party cookies walk off into the sunset, we can expect to see the current burst of innovation from the adtech sector accelerate and the industry coalesce around what will most likely be an interlinked group of identifiers. We believe Novatiq’s IDs will play an important role when it comes to building addressable audiences and activating segments against them. The web is transforming, but programmatic advertising is going nowhere.