With the launch of iOS 14.5, Apple has made changes to its Identifier for Advertisers (IDFA), introducing the App Tracking Transparency (ATT) framework and transforming the digital advertising landscape on iOS devices. And, on Google’s Chrome, we still have the ‘death of the cookie’ to look forward to. A pair of industry changes that have been widely seen as being ‘anti-competitive’. Both instances further restrict the free flow of data that powers much of modern advertising, but do so unilaterally without truly providing consumers with sufficient transparency or choice with their data. Recent Blis research found that 78% of senior marketers are concerned or very concerned about the loss of cookies, while 61% feel the same about the reduction of IDFAs.

Industry sea change

While it’s good to see Apple and Google avoiding the pitfalls of simply trading one personal identifier for another, there are doubts over whether the pair will genuinely ‘walk the walk’ when it comes to privacy, as well as ‘talk the talk’.

What you can say about the changes is that, while they hurt everybody a little bit, they hurt everybody other than Apple and Google a lot more. As it stands, both of them are going to come out of this further ahead of the rest, so the industry is looking at the pair to hold themselves to the same standard that they’re trying to hold everyone else to.

Apple’s ATT framework requires publishers to gain permission from consumers to collect their app data for tracking. However, Apple has handed itself permission to serve targeted ads by default – and it’s something the company is currently facing an antitrust complaint about in France.  

Equally, alongside scrapping cookies, Google has said it will not support universal or alternative IDs in its tech stack, but the Google identifier is itself a universal or alternative identifier, because we all use Google. So, what we’re likely to see with Google is the use of their cross-site ID that connects what you’ve done on the search space to how you end up landing on a particular publisher.

Now, we don’t entirely agree that universal IDs are the long-term way forward either, and these IDs are just one solution among many. 

What we believe many universal ID providers have done is to say: ‘okay, if we can’t use cookies, we’ll take your email and turn it into an identifier instead’. Of course, they will hash it, turn it into a number, make it anonymous but, effectively, when you log in to a website they’re turning that into an ID. This could cause issues for consumers because, in the past, their ID was just a cookie that they could clear from within Chrome. Some are finding the ability to opt-out of some of these universal IDs to be much more opaque and difficult. This isn’t the direction consumers or regulators have said they want to go and it feels like part of an ongoing arms race, but with personal data as the ammunition. 

We believe the way forward is for the industry to focus on finding a better road to take, such as privacy-first technology that’s not based on consumer login credentials, identity fingerprints, 3rd-party-cookies-pretending-to-be-1st-party cookies, or any of the workarounds currently being floated.

So, what’s the solution?

Dynamic audiences 

Even with the changes in the identity landscape, due to regulatory changes or the changes from Google and Apple, there is still a significant amount of opted-in data that meets even the highest standards of consent. Many consumers understand the implicit value exchange of the Internet – the free content they consume is typically funded through advertising. Although the volume of this data is reducing, it can still influence powerful media plans . At Blis, we take the highly accurate, opted-in location data we see – how people move around public places in the real world – and we combine it with dozens of different aggregated and anonymised behavioural and lifestyle signals to build a multi-dimensional picture of an audience. We can take people seen shopping at IKEA and use data to learn what makes them unique or different to the rest of the population. We do this by comparing them to other brands, local, regional or national cohorts to identify differences in content consumption, sociodemographics, shopping behaviours and countless other anonymous factors. We can then compare media buying opportunities against these factors to find precise, differentiated audiences – all without requiring cookies, email addresses or any other identifier or personal data. 

For the past decade, the industry focus has been on achieving one-to-one marketing, relying on cookies and IDs to reach consumers with tailored and personalised advertising. This privacy-first era will require the industry to move away from its previous reliance on this type of one-to-one personal data and find alternatives. Doing so will provide the opportunity to deliver campaigns based on lifestyle, behaviour and context. Universal IDs offer a starting point, but may not fully live up to consumer expectations around privacy. 

The one thing that’s clear: for consumer privacy to be truly respected, the industry – from publishers to brands – needs to come together as a collective and embrace the changes that consumers and regulators are demanding.

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