Alison Weissbrot
Mar 8, 2021

The industry responds to Google’s dismissal of identifiers

The announcement that Google will not support user-level identifiers sent shockwaves across the industry this week.

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

When Google announced on Wednesday that it will no longer support independent user-level identifiers, the industry, well, freaked out.

Google’s decision to stop supporting third-party user IDs both within and outside of its ecosystem will not stop the industry from continuing to use such identifiers on the open web. However, Google’s sheer scale and dominance of both the web and the programmatic ecosystem will make it difficult for such initiatives to scale. 

There’s still a lot of confusion about what this news, and the broader push by tech giants to adopt more privacy-compliant practices, means for media planning and buying, and the ad tech world at large. While some are optimistic that targeting will live on, others see the writing on the wall. For most, questions remain.

So Campaign US asked ad tech experts the question: What does Google’s announcement mean for the future of targeted advertising? Are cookie workarounds and initiatives like Unified ID 2.0 dead?

Below are their responses.

Myles Younger, senior director of the data practice at MightyHive/S4 Capital  

“It seems that general-purpose workarounds to the third-party cookie are now indeed dead. 

“Two of the world’s biggest platforms have set clear policies that ‘alternate identifiers’ are not allowed, and that user privacy will be protected at all costs. While using such identifiers outside of Apple’s and Google’s ecosystems still seem to be technically possible, it will now be vastly more challenging in terms of industry adoption and audience reach. 

“An ‘alternate identifier’ could potentially be interpreted many ways, including browser and device fingerprinting used in a lot of targeting, identity resolution and measurement technologies. So look out for Google to flex its muscle and put large swaths of the ad tech ecosystem on notice over the coming months.”

John Lee, corporate chief strategy officer, Merkle

“The future of targeted advertising has bifurcated. Google’s ability to aggregate users for targeting will only take place within Google’s ecosystem, and can’t connect to other data using identity graphs. The other path, pursued by the rest of the industry, will maintain non-cookie identifiers to allow individual targeting and measurement. Will a divide be formed where only first-party data rich brands can take advantage, and data-poor entities revert to more primitive contextual approaches?

“No U.S. regulator has determined that ID tokens [such as hashed emails] are not permissible. Apple and Google have decided this on behalf of the consumer, the publisher and brand. While this is a seismic change, other signals can still be used for identity. Some are fundamental to the internet and commerce, and will be very hard technology players to deprecate. My guess is the government would be forced to step in and regulate at that point.

“This strengthens the urgency to rally quickly behind the best available solution, and that appears to be Unified ID 2.0. The more that UID 2.0 can distinguish itself as explicitly not being an ID graph, but rather an ‘open container’ that lets brands and publishers bring their ID of choice, the faster it will take off.”

Paul Silver, global chief strategy officer, MiQ

“Google is drawing a clear line in the sand on privacy. We’re likely to see Google lean more into aggregation through FLoC, where they can feel confident they’re [maintaining] enough privacy while keeping solutions that do not align with their privacy goals at arm’s length. 

“That said, the open web will still be free to embrace authenticated, opt-in solutions, as long as they’re compliant with privacy law. For years, Google has been seen as the main source of truth in terms of first-party data, so it will be interesting to see how the ad tech ecosystem responds to Google’s declaration on privacy.”

Nishant Desai, senior director of technology, operations & partnerships, Xaxis

“Google has made it very clear that they don’t view PII-based identity graphs as a replacement for third-party cookies and device IDs. But if users are willing to opt in and provide their email addresses, there isn’t really anything Google can do to stop them.  

“The long-term viability is going to depend on scale; if it takes too long to reach critical mass, the industry may move on in search of greener pastures. Without Google’s scale, a cookie workaround may be a pipedream.”

Jim Daily, CEO North America, Teads

"Improvements to privacy by Google are welcomed, and this announcement was not unexpected. If anything, it has been overhyped. 

“But the devil will be in the detail. Such updates shouldn’t be limited to the open web or help Google gain competitive advantages. To ensure publishers can monetize their own real estate, we need to ensure precise targeting isn’t only possible within walled gardens. Even though one-to-one marketing will take a big hit, there are sophisticated alternative targeting solutions that have a proven track record of driving positive brand outcomes.”

Joe Root, CEO and co-founder, Permutive

“The signal this announcement sends is strong. Google is making it clear that any form of user ID in the bidsteam is not compliant. This raises a lot of questions for any solution built on user IDs. Cohorts built from publishers’ authenticated data will be the future of digital marketing, as privacy-safe alternatives to targeting without tracking across domains.

“Diminishing third-party cookies is an enormous opportunity to build solutions that empower publishers while ensuring advertisers can reach and build trust with their audiences. First-party data will be the only viable way to do targeted advertising.”

Campaign US

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