Decoding Google: What their latest privacy announcement means for ad tech

By Georgie Haig, Product Lead – Identity, and Rachel Foskett, Senior Product Marketing Manager, MiQ

This week, Google dropped a proverbial grenade on the ad tech industry when it published a blog post titled ‘Charting a course towards a more privacy-first web.’. The blog aims to draw a clear line in the sand around their stance on identity, providing some key points of clarification on the extent to which authenticated identity solutions can be used as an alternative to third party cookies on Google’s own properties, including those that provide access to the open web such as their DSP, DV360.

The initial implications of the announcement seem huge – according to Advertiser Perceptions, DV360 is the second most widely adopted DSP among US marketers, and the adoption of unified ID solutions has been accelerating rapidly among the open ecosystem. So, to find out that a huge player won’t be supporting them will give many companies pause for thought on their own strategies.

But, while Google’s stance is clear on how this relates to user-level identity for audience profiling and targeting across Google Advertising products, it’s not yet fully clear what the implications could be for the wider industry, particularly if Google takes a fully anonymous approach to measurement and frequency capping as well.

So, although it may take some time to determine the full implications of the news for the industry, there are some things we can already surmise.

How big is this blow for the industry?

Non-Google ad buys bought through their platforms such as AdX or DV360 won’t be supported by any unified IDs. And that includes both Google’s own logged-in identity, and industry identity frameworks such as UID 2.0. Google also won’t be building user-level profiles at all and will instead be using aggregated cohorts.

This means behavioral targeting capabilities beyond Google-owned properties, when buying through their tech, will rely on grouped segments rather than individual users.

So, what will be possible?

This announcement shows that Google is leaning into the notion of aggregation through frameworks like FLoC and tools like Ads Data Hub where they can feel confident they’re building up enough privacy. But we don’t yet know exactly what data will continue to surface inside Ads Data Hub and the identifiers that will underpin it. So, as an industry we can only hope for more clarity on this from Google soon. 

It also appears that they are still committing to using advertisers’ first party data as an important mechanism for identity across their products. This is in line with their roadmap for initiatives such as Ads Data Hub, which has just integrated with LiveRamp’s IdentityLink, which allows for the upload and matching of first party data to Google datasets at an aggregated level. 

Alongside this, Google-owned properties such as YouTube will continue to benefit from first party identity from logged-in Google users, so for example advertisers could still retarget users in YouTube using aggregated segments built from logged-in Google Search data. 

And, although it’s not clear from the announcement whether their rejection of universal ID solutions extends to measurement, their privacy sandbox has at least one promising alternative: their measurement API. You can read more about all the different developments in the Chrome privacy sandbox in our recent blog post.

The world beyond the walls.

Of course, while Google manages a large proportion of internet ads, there are also plenty of other DSPs out there. Advertisers will still be free to embrace consent-based authenticated solutions such as Unified ID 2.0 and LiveRamp IDL via platforms such as Xandr or The Trade Desk. It’s unlikely these initiatives will be completely abandoned just because Google has rejected them from their ad platforms – and it’s important to note they won’t be blocked from Chrome. 

They will also still be allowed in DV360 via private marketplace (PMP) deals – as these deals are negotiated directly between the publisher and the buyer, with the DSP acting as a neutral exchange partner. So while it’s too early to say for sure, it may be that the future of authenticated identity targeting is via PMP deals with individual publishers, instead of on the open exchange. (We’ve already seen evidence for this in the shape of a 135% increase in PMP buys since the start of 2019).

So, what does it all mean?

The latest announcement further highlights the importance of taking a diversified approach to digital identity across both the open and closed web. In the world beyond cookies, there is no singular silver bullet solution, and this won’t be the last announcement or industry change over the next 12 months from Google or the independent ad-tech space. 

But the announcement does reinforce the need to be preparing for the new identity landscape right now, using a combination of first party data, advanced contextual, and privacy sandbox activation solutions. Now is not the time to lean back.

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How can MiQ help?

We’re already supporting clients with cookieless audits on their campaigns today, delivering MiQ Unlocked presentations to help clients navigate the world ahead, and diversifying campaign execution to more future proofed strategies.

For example, our deep relationships across the buy side of the industry via platforms like The Trade Desk and Xandr, mean we can give our clients access to inventory where cookie alternatives (UID 2.0, IDL) are set to be readily available. In addition, we are continuing to establish deeper relationships with the sell side of the industry, for example with SSPs like Magnite, Index Exchange and OpenX who are also set to support these identifiers.

We also know that Google’s privacy sandbox features will continue to be a key part of the ecosystem in a post-cookie world. We will continue to invest resources in FLoC, FLEDGE and Conversion Measurement API testing as these become available. Over the next 6-12 months we will be able to help brands better understand the use cases and implications of these emerging technologies, alongside open web solutions.

Based on the fact that the industry as a whole continues to lean-in to first party data, we will also continue to support and enhance brand to publisher data sharing for planning, activation and measurement with our data science expertise.

Google’s announcement also highlights the increased focus on consumer privacy in our industry – whilst still fully unclear of the road ahead, we expect privacy-first analysis inside of platforms like Ads Data Hub to be key to future measurement and analytics, so until we see otherwise, we will continue to build clean room platform expertise on behalf of our clients.