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1 September 2022

The data gap between past and future continues to widen

In this week’s POV, Global Head of Data Strategy Dylan Mouratsing, reviews third-party cookies and lays out three good reasons why we can be optimistic about the future of the industry. Dylan explores why third-party data is less valuable and how new solutions are often even more performant than their tracking-based forebears.

Google has announced Chrome will continue to permit third party cookies by default until late 2024. Many industry insiders have joked that this is a welcome reprieve, akin to Leonardo Di Caprio’s Jordan Belfort being cheered on in The Wolf of Wall Street for defiantly refusing to give up to law enforcement.

We’re thinking differently about the new timeline. While some adtech players celebrate the delay, we are well underway disentangling third party cookies from our digital strategies. We therefore see this as additional time to widen the gap between legacy techniques we are phasing out, and their more futureproof replacement technologies we have focused upon.

The industry - and in particular, the IAB - needs more time to agree on compliant, robust and efficient solutions. Google has indicated they need a year for advertisers to test their own cookieless ad solutions, which they have dubbed the Privacy Sandbox initiative. The fact that Google can’t bring an agreed solution to these advertisers until 2023 has forced their hand into delaying the phase out once again.

Over the long term, this work across the industry will help secure the future of supporting publishers’ journalism and creator content. Strong targeting and measurement funds content - by being able justify a premium to advertisers.

However, targeting efficiency isn’t as dependent on replacing cookies as some have inferred. Our confidence in moving beyond cookie-based tracking isn’t dependent on one solution, but rather a number of interrelated factors.

First, many historic uses of third-party tracking data in the industry do not pass our data ethics guidelines, so we won’t mourn their loss. As a result, we are not spending our resources creating tracking-based audiences, where the data is sourced from consumers in unfair or inequitable ways.

Instead, we’ve gone back to first principles - building around how brands work, and the actual targeting/measurement needed to help brands grow.

Second, people have migrated away from heavily tracked/cookied environments. In other words, looking at where people spend their time and how that has evolved, year over year, we find that people have been spending more time within apps and platforms that do not readily utilise third-party tracking. The big gainers from this have been established walled garden platforms such as Amazon and Google, as well as newer but rapidly-established media outlets such as TikTok, voice/audio and connected TV.

Finally, in this context, we find that third-party data is less valuable than what is possible by working with data they generate from their own relationships with their customers, known as first-party data.

Technology has moved apace to seize this opportunity. Anticipating the shift away from tracking based data is a variety of new and updated products that fulfil previous needs, and even serve brand new use cases for advertisers. The essential task of matching data between advertisers and publishers can be fulfilled by securely sharing email addresses via encryption or via a data clean room.

Email customer matching involves sharing encrypted email lists invisible to middlemen, while data clean rooms securely share the fact that a match exists, allowing measurement and targeting, without sharing the data itself at all.

Anonymous, aggregated customer behaviour can also be matched algorithmically, allowing us to find the target groups advertisers value without resorting to individual tracking.

Data uses spanning measurement, targeting and activation, is now not only possible without resorting to cookies — the new solutions are often even more performant than their tracking-based forebears.