Abandoning Third-Party Cookies? What Gives, Google?
It’s been reported that Google is working on its own online identifier system, called AdID, which could replace the third-party cookies used by marketers to track people’s online behavior, better targeting their advertising efforts.
Google’s AdID would be transmitted to advertisers and ad networks that have agreed to basic guidelines, which would give consumers more privacy and control over how they browse the Web. Google can automatically reset the AdID every year, and users may be able to create a second AdID for browsing sessions they want to keep private. Google’s switch to the AdID system will definitely shake up the entire digital advertising industry.
Privacy & Third-Party Cookies
The reason that Google wants to make this move and abandon third-party cookies is because big players (including Microsoft, Mozilla, Apple and a few others) have confused people into thinking that third-party cookies are a threat. Safari doesn’t accept them, Firefox has threatened to stop accepting them, and Microsoft has turned on the “Do Not Track” setting by default.
All of these moves confuse the signal of what a customer really wants and how they want to receive ads. If some signals are turned off by default and others are turned on, then it’s difficult to determine what consumers want when they are searching online or on their mobile devices.
Whether Google abandons cookies or not, the company has always accepted all of the most recent thinking on privacy — i.e., the ability for consumers to opt out and take control of ad targeting. However, the reality is that remarkably few people actually do take control and dump their cookies or opt out — probably because they don’t really care about what ads they see. If they are among the few that do care, people would rather see more relevant ads versus less.
Decline In Ad Impressions & Ad Spend
For marketers, for the first time ever, there is a forecasted decline in ad impressions, which means a decline in ad spend for desktop and laptop computers. This is a trend without much meaning because when you add in tablets and other mobile devices, the digital market is actually continuing to grow.
The big difference with tablets and mobile is that the predominant provider (Apple) does not allow cookies to be set on the default browser (Safari). Google would neatly sidestep this issue if it used its own identifier. It would also neatly avoid the massive debate in the WC3 about what the third-party cookie and the “do not track” settings should be on the browser. As a result, Google would then just set its own standard.
Will Google Let Us All Use AdID?
What remains to be seen is whether or not Google would then hold its technology tightly to its chest, as it normally does, so you can only use the Google AdID if you are spending money with Google. Or, will Google allow the entire advertising ecosystem to read the Google AdID so we can all use it as a replacement for the cookie? I highly suspect that Google will allow us all to use their ID for two reasons:
- Google doesn’t want to fight the privacy debate on its own
- Even if we all have access to the Google ID, we don’t have Google’s data — especially the cross device matching that Google can and will do
Google having its own identifier would bring people who dump cookies, or who don’t accept third-party cookies (e.g., all Safari and iPad users) back into the ad targeting pool. This would be a win for marketers (the targeting pool would grow) and consumers (this group of audiences would now see more relevant ads).
Google may also be able to use its own cookie ID to help combat viewability issues because Google would presumably figure out how to identify a bot or Web crawler vs. a real person. This means there would be less risk that marketers are paying to show ads to non-humans. All in all, this is a win for everyone.
New Ways To Control Online Privacy
At the end of the day, we know that something has to give in terms of the way third-party cookies are used to control online privacy. Cookies have been a positive step for marketers and consumers thus far, but they have an undeserved negative connotation in the market, thanks to the Mozilla and Microsoft marketing campaigns suggesting you are more secure with their browsers because they block third-party cookies or turn on “do not track.”
This information is misleading when you consider that Explorer specifically is notoriously full of real security flaws. However, market confusion plus consumer migration to other devices such as tablets and mobile phones have already made cookies a less efficient and effective mechanism for consumer privacy control.
Expect improved targeting and viewability, which will allow for better advertising performance with the new Google ID (if it happens). And, if not, keep an eye open for other players to push for additional mechanisms for privacy and identification.
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