How Google's decision to stop web tracking will spur alternative identity solutions

Industry experts say this could be an opportunity for marketers and publishers to look for an alternative to the walled gardens

e4m by Javed Farooqui
Updated: Mar 22, 2021 9:17 AM

Tech giant Google's decision to disallow individual web tracking once third-party cookies are phased out on its Chrome browser in early 2022 has generated a lot of debate in the digital advertising industry globally. Google's replacement for cookies is Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC) which groups individuals on the basis of their interests for targeted advertising.

On March 3, Google announced that it will not build alternate identifiers that will support user tracking once the third-party cookies are phased out on its Chrome browser by early 2022. "Today, we’re making explicit that once third-party 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," Google Director of Product Management, Ads Privacy and Trust David Temkin had said in an official blog post.

Reacting to Google's announcement, S4 Capital Executive Chairman & Founder Sir Martin Sorrell had said that the marketers need to focus more on first-party data. This sentiment has been echoed by digital advertising experts across the board.

“CMOs should take note that this reiterates, once again, the importance of first-party data and how consumer trust and privacy are moving to the forefront of marketing. In the coming years, digital consumer relationships will be earned by customer experience and value exchange. With Google Chrome removing support for third-party cookies by 2022, the time for marketers to start investing in the future is now," Sorrell had said recently.

dentsu Asia Pacific (APAC) Chief Data & Product Officer & dentsu Programmatic - South Asia CEO Gautam Mehra said that the Google announcement is on expected lines. He also highlighted that the agency's in-house product Dentsu Marketing Cloud (DMC) has been cookie-less, first party-driven and cohort-based for the past five years.

"Google first announced in last January (in 2020) that it would stop supporting third-party cookies in Chrome by mid-2022. Firefox, Safari, and other privacy-first browsers like Brave have already stopped third-party cookie support in various degrees. Apple has in fact put more stringent norms in iOS 14 and further restricts app-based user-level tracking. It's a new world for the entire ad industry, but there are several solutions being worked on," Mehra said.

Verizon Media Country Manager - India Nikhil Rungta said that the cookie-less future of digital advertising is prompting marketers and publishers to find alternative identity solutions that will bridge this gap and deliver growth, while honoring privacy preferences and maintaining a good consumer experience.

"Amidst growing privacy concerns in India and across the world, emerging solutions will have to be built on the foundation of consumer-first values. At the same time, new identity solutions will have to strike the right balance between factors like privacy, usefulness, relevance, and monetisation. This will ensure the sustainability of the ‘Free Web’ that consumers everywhere know and expect," Rungta said.

"Going forward, first-party data will be core to identity in a post-cookie landscape. Players that have built an identity graph using consent-based, cross-channel, first-party data will be well-positioned to deliver alternative targeting and measurement solutions," he said.

Concurring with Rungta, FoxyMoron Media Director Preetika Ghosh said that advertisers will have to figure out innovative ways of driving efficiencies that are compliant with user privacy and non-invasive.

"As advertisers, we have built our narrative on the fact that the digital medium allows for precision-based targeting. Google’s promise of bringing in FLoC means that there will be an anticipated shift from third-party data mining mechanisms to first-party data mining mechanisms," Ghosh said.

She further added that third-party cookies offered advertisers an edge and taking it away will surely impact revenue and expenditure. Ghosh also anticipates a drop in advertising spends predominantly due to data and cohort shortage in the beginning.

"We need to keep reminding ourselves of one thing - digital is growing and contextual targeting will continue to thrive. With privacy conducive ecosystems coming in place, we can be assured that a much larger pro-privacy revolution has taken place globally. We need to look at this as an evolution in advertising that will set the guardrails that make digital open and free for all."

Zeotap Founder & Chief Product Officer Projjol Banerjea commented, "Google's recent announcement, while not surprising, is a reminder that the industry needs to adopt a privacy-first mindset in order to restore customer trust. It’s also a wake-up call to anyone moving slowly in the face of third-party cookie deprecation. In the absence of the cookie, advertisers and publishers alike must embrace interoperable solutions such as Universal IDs to fully leverage the power of first-party data - the earlier they are able to do so, the better prepared they will be to face the future."

PubMatic Country Manager-South Asia Amit Yadav believes that the deprecation of the third party cookie represents an opportunity to build out better, more privacy compliant and consented targeting. "This gives us the ability to keep content creators and news organisations generating the content consumers love, which is certainly a good thing. Google’s announcement gives some clarity on their direction, but doesn’t impact the wider industry’s move to a better, more long term solution that works for all."

Noting that consumer privacy and control are critical components of a healthy and sustainable open internet, Yadav said developing first-party connections between publishers, advertisers, and consumers have been a key part of PubMatic’s approach to post-cookie addressability.

"We see this as an opportunity to give greater independence to the open web and publishers. It is an opportunity to level the playing field. Google is obviously an important part of the ecosystem and they will continue to allow targeting of their first party audiences within their ecosystem. The opportunity for marketers and publishers is an alternative to the walled gardens, and that is what independent ad tech continues to move toward."

He also mentioned that advertisers in India and across the globe are looking for ROI and engagement outside of Google and the walled gardens. "We believe Google’s announcement may actually accelerate publishers’ responses to third-party cookie deprecation. This could benefit advertisers who are seeking to diversify spend away from the walled gardens without losing the personalisation and campaign ROI they are used to from third-party cookies."

Yadav also pointed out that cookies are not present across the entire internet and that the cookie part is a portion, not a whole, and other areas, like CTV, are seeing high growth. "Long term, we see this as an opportunity to continue to increase digital spend in a way that works for all stakeholders, especially consumers."

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