Embracing the Changing Cookie Landscape to Create a Better Internet for All

January 16, 2020 — by Wilfried Schobeiri    

Earlier this week, Google announced it will phase out third-party cookies in its Chrome Web browser by 2022 to bring more stringent privacy standards across its online advertising platforms and tools.

Before we go down the rabbit hole, it’s important to define exactly what wasn’t announced this week: a unilateral motion by Google to end the third-party cookie without a replacement. Rather, Google has announced its intention to replace the cookie in the next two years with a set of technology standards that gives end users more control over their browsing experience and privacy. Those technology standards don’t yet exist, and Google is asking for engagement from the technology ecosystem to work together to provide a viable consumer- and competition-friendly alternative to the third-party cookie.

Said another way, this move doesn’t mean the end of consumer identifiers or the end of personalized advertising and the companies that enable it. It means embracing the ongoing change in our industry and moving away from obsolete technology towards more relevant identifiers, as evidenced in our collective embrace of mobile and CTV IDs. The world is increasingly omnichannel, and any holistic identity solution needs to care about the totality of media, not just a single channel.

To come up with the alternative to the third-party cookie, we—publishers, advertisers, the technology platforms that support both, and web developers—need to come together to work with Chrome on developing consumer-friendly, privacy-sensitive technology solutions that enable: 1) publishers to continue to monetize their content through advertising—which for many, remains >80% of revenues; 2) advertisers to continue to market to relevant audiences and measure the efficacy of their marketing message; and 3) consumers to be more deeply engaged in the value exchange of advertising for free, relevant content while having control over how their data is being used, having confidence that it is being used fairly and respectfully, and having the right to change and/or erase it at any time and ensure it isn’t being used without their consent. Being clear about the role of the consumer in the value exchange between advertisers and publishers is more critical than ever, as consumers continue to demand and deserve strong checks and balances when it comes to use of their data.

We don’t think these three things are in conflict—in fact, our top brands and agencies and their media partners are increasingly voting with their dollars on a supply chain that stands for these principles. We also think we’ll see a growing trend of publishers and advertisers working closely together on bidirectional data transfer solutions. And we fully support Google’s desire to collaborate in getting to a solution appropriate for all parties. It’s with this same spirit that we brought together over a dozen industry partners to launch SOURCE by MediaMath, through which we are building a new, rules-based model to enable digital advertising to operate with transparency and trust.

On MediaMath’s part, we’ve been working on technology solutions with our partners that leverage authenticated user signals, first-party identity solutions, bidirectional data transfer, greater use of contextual parameters, and more to either replace the hole created or reduce the burden on advertisers left by the eventual absence of third-party cookies. We’ve maintained open dialog with several privacy councils, the major federal and European data governance bodies, the major trade associations, and the browser vendors, and we look forward to getting deeply involved in the technical standards work that’s ahead of us. In addition, the identity work we are doing with partners like LiveRamp and Akamai is fundamentally built on addressing these issues.

An announcement without a complete solution in place puts the industry in a precarious and uncertain position. We’ve been spending a lot of time over the last week at CES and in other meetings discussing our plans for the future with many clients, and we imagine others are, too. Like GDPR before it, we expect this anxiety will accelerate further consolidation amongst those who don’t have the resources to heavily invest in response to this change. We knew this change was inevitable, but Google will have to be careful with their next steps, given the antitrust risks that exist with owning the industry-leading browser, publisher ad server, search provider, video content publisher, and demand-side ad server in addition to several major demand-side offerings and one of the largest ad exchanges.

We will continue to believe that an industry standard that is neutrally governed is the best approach to solve for the interconnection of consumer privacy and advertising. And if Google’s efforts over the next two years can create a standard for all browsers, one that is both consumer- and competition-friendly, that’s a good thing for the industry.