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ARTICLE

A First-Party Relationship is Critical for a World Without the Third-Party Cookie

October 12, 2020 — by Jamie Penkethman    

This year has been one about embracing change. It’s happened on a personal level, a societal level and an industry level. COVID-19 has accelerated shifts that were already happening in how consumers shop and consumer content—take for instance the migration from linear TV to connected TV. The spread of misinformation and hate on social media has strengthened the resolve of the tech community to fund a healthy, diverse media ecosystem. And Google’s announcement of the phaseout of the third-party cookie right before the pandemic hit has brought the industry together to engineer the future of the Internet via initiatives like Project Rearc.

All of these trends intersect. When we call into question how we fund quality publishers to fund a healthy society, the value of ad inventory goes down without an identifier according to some research. The changes and regulation happening right now are designed to protect consumers, but if the media loses money, if publications can’t fund their journalists, the whole of society loses.

It’s important to remember that while third-party cookies and the type of tracking associated with third-party data have been the focus of consumer privacy concerns and responses by browsers, OS operators and regulators, the first-party relationship is too often overlooked. The first-party relationship addresses consumer privacy concerns and can provide the functionality that publishers and brands need for their continued success. Let’s explore why and how the first-party relationship can help usher us into this next, third-party-cookieless phase of our digital future.

First-party data: from direct mail to digital

When you think about it, we are trying to solve technical challenges so brands can do in digital what they have long done in direct mail: use their customer database to send product information to customers who have directly provided their data to the brand.

Doing this very same thing in the digital world is vastly more complex than putting a name, address and stamp on an envelope. That offline data needs to be anonymized, then associated to digital devices.  Just as the consumer has a relationship with the brand, that same anonymized data can associate that consumer to the websites and apps with which they also have a relationship. Thus, in a world without third-party cookies, it’s first-party cookies and anonymized emails that can build links across websites and devices.

Hashed email for the win

Hashed email, other types of user authentication and first-party cookies will enable the association of a person across sites and devices. Here’s how this looks in practice:

  • A person logs into a website or submits their email.
  • The email is encrypted into a pseudo-anonymized double hashed and salted email which cannot be decrypted and associated back the original email.
  • When that person logs into another site or app, that hashed email can be used to identify that as the same person.
  • It can work on different sites in the same browser, or on another device, including mobile.

The key is transparency into how first-party data is used and respect for consumer privacy preferences. All of it is based on the first-party relationship that a person has with the brands and publishers whom they allow to use their data.

Stepping into the future

There will remain much uncertainty as events like COVID-19 persist and we march toward 2022 when the third-party cookie will be a thing of the past. In the case of both societal and industry events, we will continually be asked to embrace ongoing change and move away from our old ways of thinking and behaving in addition to obsolete technology and processes. Getting back to the essence of our relationship with consumers and the data they directly provide to us is a perfect place to start.

To learn more about how to prepare for a world without third-party cookies, download our whitepaper “Preparing for a Post-Third-Party Cookie World: Identity & the Future of Online Advertising.”