Life After Cookies: Part Four — Collaborating in Support of the Open Internet

While much as been made of the upcoming death of third-party cookies, there have proven to be, as we’ve seen in earlier installments of this series, few mourners—and many celebrants.

“Cookies were originally designed to make the user experience easier onsite so that someone didn’t have to consistently log in. It expanded into a mechanism whereby there could be some level of recognition of users, allowing advertising to work more effectively in the internet,” says David Danziger, VP of data partnerships at The Trade Desk, a media buying platform that bills itself as “transforming media for humankind.” However, he notes, “It was never meant to be something that would become intrusive for consumers or where advertisers found out much more about consumers than what consumers wanted to share.”

Google’s decision to stop supporting third-party cookies, therefore, provides the opportunity for a reset, which, Danziger says, allows for “a conversation between consumers and the publishers they’re used to browsing about why recognition is important and about how the quid pro quo of the internet has always been that relevant advertising is what pays for all the free content that’s out there.” The key is replacing cookies in a way that, as Danziger puts it, “ends up being better for consumers, better for the open internet, better for advertisers, and better for publishers.”

A Group Effort

The opportunity this represents, adds Tom Richards, global product director at MiQ, a programmatic media company, “is massive in terms of a more future-proofed web for the industry to operate within. I think that everyone is moving toward that goal collectively.”

And, in the search for a better, more satisfying replacement for cookies, “collectively” is the key word.

As Danziger recalls, after Google’s announcement was made, “many different organizations in the industry started to have discussions trying to figure out the best way to do this.” The problem was, “while many of the solutions, descriptions, ideas, and opinions that emerged from these meetings were potentially very good,” as so often happens in committee situations, “there aren’t always a lot of technical resources that can be brought to bear.” To focus the committee’s efforts and bring a plan to fruition, Danziger says, “sometimes it just takes one company getting out in front and taking the lead and saying, ‘Hey, here is what we can do if we devote our resources to it.’”

So The Trade Desk stepped forward and took on the challenge, working with partners across the ecosystem over the past year, to introduce an approach to online identity called Unified ID 2.0.

“It’s not that we’re doing anything revolutionary. We’re just stepping up with some technology to bring together all the resources of the open internet to help make this work.”

Bringing Together All the Resources

“It’s not that we’re doing anything revolutionary,” says Danziger. “We’re just stepping up with some technology to bring together all the resources of the open internet to help make this work.”

John Goulding, head of strategy, U.S., at MiQ, has been impressed with what he’s seen come out of The Trade Desk’s efforts. “What the Trade Desk has done as part of this whole consortium of players to come up with some ways of tackling this and making it better than it used to be has ended up with some fantastic solutions emerging. I feel optimistic right now that consumers will get more transparency and control in a more consolidated way. The huge amount of productivity and collaboration that we’re going to see over the next 12 months is going to lead to a good outcome.”

Danziger stresses that The Trade Desk is just one of many players in this effort—albeit taking the lead. “It didn’t have to be us,” he says. “And ultimately, it’s not about us or about this being a solution from The Trade Desk at all.” It’s completely non-proprietary, he says. “No one is charging for it; it’s all open sourced; anyone who is abiding by the code of conduct can use it and work with it.”

The Trade Desk’s solution is a platform based on an email address that has been hashed and salted—authenticated and secured—as a way of protecting it and, as Danziger explains, “rotating the information so that it’s not just a broadly exposed email that becomes a mechanism for identity, but it’s encrypted and protected in a way that isn’t readable by those who are not part of the process.”

In addition to being non-proprietary, Danziger stresses, the platform is founded on three other key principles:

• Governance will be independent: “It’s going to be handed either to an industry body or a consortium of companies working within its capacity.”

• It’s secure and privacy safe: “It can’t be easily reverse engineered.”

• It will be transparent, and consumers will have control: “The websites that consumers regularly visit will have mechanisms that explain what this is. There will be a Unified ID 2.0 log-in and a consumer-facing console where consumers can choose where and how the platform can work and where their identity is used to log in. Once someone has opted to use this as their basis, they won’t have to reenter it every time. The email will be the gateway to enter.”

“This will be a much more consistent framework where you can be recognized at the sites where you want to be recognized, and you can have anonymity where you want it.”

Particularly critical, Danziger notes, is that this will be a “much more consistent framework where a consumer who chooses to share their email as the mechanism for recognition can choose to use that at different sites and decide where it’s on and where it’s off. You can be recognized at the sites where you want to be recognized, and you can have anonymity where you want it.”

The Importance of Interoperability

But what may be Unified ID 2.0’s most important feature—especially in a world where the walled gardens tended by Big Tech companies may block some aspects of the open internet, is its interoperability. “This doesn’t have to be the system of choice, so long as it’s fully interoperable with some of the other capabilities that are out there for identity and recognition,” says Danziger. For example, The Trade Desk has already worked through relationships with LiveRamp to make sure Unified ID 2.0 is fully interoperable with LiveRamp’s IdentityLink capability. Similarly, Danziger adds, “there are other companies with which we’re establishing interoperability. Some of the agency holding companies, for instance, have ID mechanisms.”

Last week, Google announced that it would not support industry identity frameworks such as Unified ID 2.0—that is, identifiers that the tech giant does not own. Quoting a “leader of a major agency holding company” on the impact of this announcement, The Trade Desk CEO Jeff Green wrote in a blog that “this will be remembered as a great day for the future of the open internet.” One reason, he noted, is that while, on the open internet Google will not be using alternative identifiers to cookies, “everyone else will.”

Google’s move, wrote Green, is a strategic one, given that Google is “in the crosshairs on the privacy issue” and makes “comparatively little revenue from the open internet.” On the other hand, he stresses, an approach like Unified ID 2.0 “is a common currency that pays off the value exchange of the internet in a way that benefits publishers, advertisers, and consumers. It is also one that cannot be controlled by any one company, including Apple or Google.”

Unified ID 2.0, Danziger points out, is also not the end of the line. “It’s not like technology is going to stop once we roll this out,” he says. “It’s something that is going to continue to evolve. This is a step in the process. And as consumer preferences relate to privacy, change will have to change with that.”

Next week, we’ll take a look at how one sell side ad platform is preparing for life after cookies. Read part 5 here.