Industry responds as Google confirms it's ditching unique identifiers for digital advertising

Latest step comes as the cookie is phased out

Confirmation of Google’s decision to drop identifiers to track individuals in any shape or form once the iconic cookie is phased out has been met with positive and negative responses from the wider advertising and media ecosystem.  

In an announcement overnight, Google confirmed once third-party cookies are removed, it will not build alternate identifiers to track individuals as they browse across the Web, nor will it employ them in its products. Cookies are due to be phased out across Google’s browser products by early 2022.  

This will mean the sole way of targeting and measuring digital ads across Google’s browser outside of a first-party data arrangement will be via proposals managed within Google’s Privacy Sandbox. A core one of these is what it’s calling ‘federated learning of cohorts’ (FLoC), or anonymised groups of consumers showing similar interests and behaviours.  

“We realise this means other providers may offer a level of user identity for ad tracking across the Web that we will not - like PII graphs based on people’s email addresses. We don’t believe these solutions will meet rising consumer expectations for privacy, nor will they stand up to rapidly evolving regulatory restrictions, and therefore aren’t a sustainable long-term investment,” Google director of product management, ads privacy and trust, David Temkin, said in its latest statement.    

“Instead, our Web products will be powered by privacy-preserving APIs, which prevent individual tracking while still delivering results for advertisers and publishers.”  

Google called out advances in aggregation, anonymisation, on-device processing and other privacy-preserving technologies as the alternative way forward. It also claimed fresh tests of FLoC show it’s an effectively alternative to taking third-party cookies out and instead hiding individuals within large crowds of people with common interests.  

“Keeping the Internet open and accessible for everyone requires all of us to do more to protect privacy — and that means an end to not only third-party cookies, but also any technology used for tracking individual people as they browse the Web,” the Google statement read.    

Google Chrome now intends to make FLoC-based cohorts available for public testing this month, while FLoC-based cohorts will be tested with advertisers in Google Ads by Q2. It’s also flagged new user controls will come online in April, which will be tweaked in coming months based on user and industry feedback.  

“This points to a future where there is no need to sacrifice relevant advertising and monetisation in order to deliver a private and secure experience,” Google stated.    

“We will continue to support first-party relationships on our ad platforms for partners, in which they have direct connections with their own customers. And we'll deepen our support for solutions that build on these direct relationships between consumers and the brands and publishers they engage with.”

Industry response 

Feedback on Google’s decision has been mixed. Data solutions provider, Lotame, who is looking to offer an alternative data solution to the current cookie approach, labelled the move a further step by Google to keep more advertisers locked into its walled garden  

“Google uses privacy as a shield to weaponise its ‘moat’. The Moat is YouTube and its search business,” Lotame CEO, Andy Monfried, said. “Almost everything else is a rounding error. Make no mistake, Google is now going to brand themselves as a ‘privacy concerned' company for consumers. Don’t fall for it.”  

While supporting the philosophy behind the removal of cookies in supporting privacy, TrafficGuard COO, Luke Taylor, also saw problems with the decision around avoiding alternative identifiers around ad fraud.  

“While Google’s movement to eliminate third-party cookies and alternative identifiers prioritises user privacy, it unfortunately and inevitably will exacerbate the problem of ad fraud,” Taylor claimed. “The removal of third-party cookies and other identifiers makes it much easier for ad fraud to pose as real human traffic, which will end up being costly to businesses that depend on advertising. With less transparency, ad fraud will most likely flourish, ultimately magnifying existing challenges around attribution and optimisation.”  

However, the team at Adlucent supported Google’s decision positively, highlighting its own position in the adtech ecosystem.  

“As both a citizen and professional in the tech space, Google's commitment to not track individuals with alternate identifiers is a uniformly positive step toward prioritizing user privacy above profits,” Adlucent VP of engineering, Tim Ozor, commented. “We've taken significant steps to decrease advertiser reliance on individual user tracking since Google introduced the idea of a cookieless future four years ago.”   

In response to the latest news, the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) of Australia advised advertisers and agencies to keep up investment into data science and analytics tools as well as first-party data commitments.  

“As previously flagged, an increasingly fragmented future landscape will be needed to be navigated for campaign targeting, management and attribution,” the IAB stated in its latest blog post. “Customers and consumers will still be able to be effectively reached through digital advertising but investment into data science and analytical tools and a commitment to key supplier partnerships is highly advisable. Again a commitment to, and understanding of, first-party data will be critical.”

The IAB also advised the industry overall to commit to collaborative testing of audience cohorts and their various iterations as well as unified adoption of the IAB Tech Lab’s audience and content taxonomies for consistency.  

Plenty of alternative solutions to the cookieless future are being presented to market, from Liveramp’s cookieless authenticated solution, to Neustar’s Frabrik identity management solutions.  

You can check out CMO’s full report on the ramifications of a cookieless future for marketers here.  

Alternative measurement for connected TV  

Meanwhile, Kantar has debuted a new cookieless effectiveness measurement solution – developed under its Project Moonshot initiative – which has been integrated into Connected TV and Podcast Brand Lift studies establishing direct data integrations to assess advertising impact on key brand metrics.  

The company said it's designed to measure advertising effectiveness and has already been used to measure effectiveness of campaigns across Connected TV and other digital platforms in Australia. This is based on exposure data from permissioned panellists in an anonymised way. Kantar then uses deterministic exposure data from partner publishers combined with probabilistic approaches to convert household data, such as that for a Connected TV device, to an individual person exposure.   

“In the cookieless world, passive and deterministic data alone are no longer sufficiently comprehensive for effectiveness measurement across all digital platforms,” Kantar Australia executive director of media and digital, Mark Henning, said. “Using a range of integration approaches depending on publisher capabilities, we can match the Kantar Profiles Network panellists directly with publisher ecosystem users in a privacy compliant way. 

“This enables us to ingest campaign level exposure data for matched panellists/publisher users without cookies, then consolidate and reconcile exposure data across publishers and platforms to provide a holistic picture of Brand Lift performance.”

Make sure you don’t miss out on the wealth of insight and content provided by CMO A/NZ and sign up to our weekly CMO Digest newsletters and information services here.  

You can also follow CMO on Twitter: @CMOAustralia, take part in the CMO conversation on LinkedIn: CMO ANZ, follow our regular updates via CMO Australia's Linkedin company page.



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