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20 Martech Leaders on What they Think About Google’s Decision to Continue Cookie Tracking

Cookie tracking will continue until the end of 2023, at least. Google needs more time to get its Privacy Sandbox rolling. So, marketers have more time to feel easy, as Google’s decision to phase out third-party cookies has been pushed back to end of 2023. Thanks to its efforts in building an ecosystem around Google’s privacy-preserving technology, we will see a break in the rise of digital fingerprinting techniques. Fingerprinting was bestowed with the tag of an alternative to third-party cookie tracking, in case Google stops it completely.

This isn’t going to be an easy journey to adoption of a cookie-less economy for marketers. Yes, Google will provide sufficient time and resources on GitHub and W3C groups to advance further with ecosystem testing, but it’s the martech groups dealing with analytics and audience data management who would have to approve of such moves in the future.

According to IAB and IAB Tech Lab, the future of addressability rests on privacy and technical accountability.

IAB team said, “Our work to rearchitect digital advertising for predictable and reliable privacy continues. It is imperative for the industry to remain focused and diligent. We’re as excited as ever to work with the industry on sustainable change. Today’s announcement is important, however, it is critical to recognize that there is a broad spectrum of privacy-fueled changes and regulations that IAB and IAB  Tech Lab are working with the industry on to maintain a vibrant and open, ad-supported internet.”

We spoke to top martech and adtech leaders from the industry. The article features:

  1. Dmitri Lisitski, Co-Founder and CEO, Influ2
  2. Amit Ahuja, VP, Experience Cloud Product and Strategy, Adobe
  3. Anthony Capano, North America Managing Director, Rakuten Advertising
  4. Seraj Bharwani, Chief Strategy Officer, AcuityAds
  5. Oz Etzioni, CEO, Clinch
  6. Andre Swanston, CEO of Tru Optik, a TransUnion Company
  7. Bosko Milekic, CTO and Co-Founder at Optable
  8. Wes Chaar, Chief Data & Analytics Officer at Fyllo
  9. Edwin Fu, Founder and CEO, Placements.io
  10. Kasper Skou, CEO and Co-Founder, Semasio
  11. Alex Ritchie, Senior Product Manager, Privacy and Ad Exchange, AdColony
  12. Anne Hunter, VP of Product Marketing, DISQO
  13. Raquel Rosenthal, CEO, Digilant
  14. Kenneth Suh, Chief Strategy Officer, Tremor International
  15. Bill Tucker, executive director, Partnership for Responsible Addressable Media
  16. Greg Sterling, VP of Insights at Uberall
  17. Lukasz Wlodarczyk, Director of Global Inventory Partnerships, RTB House
  18. Jonathan D’Souza-Rauto, Biddable Product Lead, Infectious Media, part of Kepler Group
  19. Patrick O’Leary, CEO of publisher CRM Boostr
  20. Todd Parsons, Chief Product Officer at Criteo

Here’s a quick summary of our discussion with them.

For Now, Cookie Tracking Is the Best Option

Dmitri Lisitski, Co-Founder and CEO, Influ2
Dmitri Lisitski
Dmitri Lisitski, Co-Founder and CEO, Influ2

“Google has been trying to ‘hack’ cookies by introducing an alternative, an alternative that they’re saying is less personal and more behavioral. However, the alternative that they introduced isn’t really any different than cookies, and the loss of cookies will negatively impact them as well because their primary source of revenue comes from advertising.

There needs to be an alternative or new solution, that is truly different from cookies, but for now, cookies is the best option — even if it isn’t ideal. Because a non-targeted approach is worse, and it will worsen the quality of the advertising experience for both advertisers and consumers. So, ultimately, it is premature to do away with cookies, and the current decision is of benefit to all (but especially advertising platforms — even giants like Facebook). And, this will allow advertisers to survive a little while longer.”

Google’s Delay Gives Brands More Time, but It Won’t Change This Trend

Amit Ahuja, VP, Experience Cloud Product and Strategy, Adobe
Amit Ahuja
Amit Ahuja, VP, Experience Cloud Product and Strategy, Adobe

“Moving away from third party cookies and toward first-party data puts consumers in control of how their data is used while companies can deliver real-time experiences that are most relevant to consumers.

Google’s delay gives brands more time, but it won’t change this trend. First-party data is the future of brand-consumer relationships built on trust—not just for advertising, but for all digital experiences.

Our customers understand the urgency in making this shift and we are partnering with them on next-gen customer data platforms [CDPs] that focus on first-party data and connect disparate data across the organization.”

FLoC Has Been Plagued With Skepticism- Give it More Time

Anthony Capano, North America Managing Director, Rakuten Advertising
Anthony Capano
Anthony Capano, North America Managing Director, Rakuten Advertising

“Google’s decision to delay the removal of third-party cookies until it can get its work-around right is likely a strategic move – FLoC has been plagued with skepticism, given its potential to create problems like cohort discrimination. As Google and others attempt to find replacements to third-party cookies, the industry needs to truly accept that people are after more control over their data. We’re losing third-party cookies because we were irresponsible with them, and our next iteration needs to be better. Any solution that comes to the market should be rooted in authentic, engaging strategies that not only give advertisers accurate access to their audiences but also deliver the more positive ad experiences that consumers are demanding.”

Great Martech Equation: {Smarter Marketers + Better AI/ML Tech}= DSP

Google to Work Closely With the Broader Marketing, Research, and the AdTech Communities

Seraj Bharwani, Chief Strategy Officer, AcuityAds
Seraj Bharwani
Seraj Bharwani, Chief Strategy Officer, AcuityAds

“A wise move on the part of Google given the extent of research and testing still required to prove the effectiveness of the alternative, privacy-protected approaches expected to replace the third-party cookies. It will be critical for Google to work closely with the broader marketing, research, and the AdTech communities to develop effective and scalable alternatives over the next couple years.”

AcuityAds is a technology leader in consumer journey-based advertising automation.

MarTech + Adtech Needs A More Matured Solution

Oz Etzioni, CEO, Clinch
Oz Etzioni
Oz Etzioni, CEO, Clinch

“Many adtech providers were so quick to slap together and productize their cookieless solutions and ended up with a lot of half-baked offerings that wouldn’t actually stand up against the reality of a cookieless world. This is an opportunity to work toward a much more mature solution that is based on the unification of creative, strategy, AB testing, and creative intelligence, so that advertisers will be ready and able to communicate with their specific audiences in a relevant and highly personalized way, with or without cookies.”

Clinch provides AI-driven omnichannel personalization and unique consumer intelligence to the world’s leading advertisers.

AI, CDPs and the Future of Customer Experience in 2021

Develop More Viable Options as an Alternative to Cookies

Andre Swanston, CEO of Tru Optik, a TransUnion Company
Andre Swanston
Andre Swanston, CEO of Tru Optik

“It comes as no surprise that Google has delayed the removal of 3rd party cookies – the original timeline announced in 2020 was not realistic for much of the industry. The reality is that Google is critical to the economics of the internet and the majority of the industry (tech platforms, media companies, agencies, etc.) were not as prepared for 3rd party cookies to go away as they publicly claimed. While dozens of proprietary IDs have popped up that rely on email, registered users and other identifiers, many of them lack the scale or interoperability that is needed to be viable alternatives to the cookie.  The delay to 2022 will give more certainty across the ecosystem and more time for the industry to plan and develop viable alternatives.”

The Crumbling Cookie Saga

Bosko Milekic, CTO and Co-Founder at Optable

“The delay in third-party cookie removal in Chrome is unsurprising given the lack of broad industry readiness. The writing is on the wall though: cookies as an ID currency for online advertising are inevitably on their way out. Much of digital media has already moved away from the crumbling cookie. There is therefore no better time than now for brands and publishers to double down on direct partnerships and collaborations around their first-party data, using privacy-preserving technologies that enable secure information exchange and connectivity beyond a single ID type.”

Optable is a SaaS data connectivity platform designed for the advertising ecosystem in the age of privacy.

Invest in First-party Data Management

Wes Chaar, Chief Data & Analytics Officer at Fyllo

“Brands should use this time to double-down on a first party data strategy if they didn’t already have one. This includes making sure that they have data and tools to ease integrations and data partnerships while looking at easy-to-use IP addresses and fingerprinting as components of their id graph. Additionally, brands should start leveraging best-in-class approaches to cookieless targeting/advertising which should include making sure contextual targeting is a component of their planning.”

How this Delay Benefits Google’s FLoC Trials?

Edwin Fu, Founder and CEO, Placements.io
Edwin F.
Edwin Fu, Founder and CEO, Placements.io

“This delay is likely an indicator that Google is still collecting data alongside cookies from users to build cohorts. This means that Chrome users who haven’t turned off all third-party cookies may be auto-enrolled in FLoC trials, and publishers who do not explicitly opt-out in code, may have the visit and site data tracked against FLoC IDs without knowing.

The delay is benefitting Google in a variety of ways: it’s buying them more time to collect more cohort data and to navigate fingerprinting and cohort privacy issues; it allows them to receive more adoption from advertisers while competing against other identifier initiatives, like UnifiedID 2.0; and most importantly, it allows them to get more publishers to opt-in to FLoC, even though it may not be valuable to their long-term inventory value in a first-party world.“

How Zero-Party Data Will Save the Internet In 2021?

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40% of Internet Users Are Not Identifiable via Cookies Today

Kasper Skou, CEO and Co-Founder, Semasio
Kasper Skou
Kasper Skou, CEO and Co-Founder, Semasio

“While this is good news for the industry as a whole, it should not deter us from moving beyond the third-party cookie as the main identifier for internet users. It is not a good vehicle for communicating with consumers, explaining the quid pro quo of data for content, facilitating that equitable exchange through collecting, storing and communicating informed consent through the value chain, and doing all of that with the user — not the device she is using right now — at the center.

The elephant in the room is that 40% of internet users are not identifiable via cookies today. We need to continue the great work, which has already gone into the future of data-driven advertising, and we need to do it on a basis that makes the consumer an equal and informed partner in the ecosystem.”

Did Apple’s IDFA Restrictions Influence Google’s Decision?

Alex Ritchie, Senior Product Manager, Privacy and Ad Exchange, AdColony
Alexander Ritchie
Alex Ritchie, Senior Product Manager, Privacy and Ad Exchange, AdColony

“With Google further delaying cookie deprecation, the former trendsetting in this space is giving both marketers, and more important for Google, themselves, time to collaborate on a privacy-safe alternative that can hopefully ensure regulatory compliance. It also implies that mobile device IDs for advertising on Android devices are likely to remain in place much longer than many industry experts had predicted, especially in the wake of Apple’s IDFA restrictions.”

Raquel Rosenthal, CEO, Digilant added, “While the digital advertising industry at large will sleep well tonight, I don’t expect advertisers will be standing by for long. The delay is just that, a delay — in large part to combat recent scrutiny over FLoC and to ensure industry stakeholders are well-prepared for the demise of cookies. In the next two years, advertisers will undoubtedly continue to get their fill of third-party cookies but we’ll also (finally) start to see momentum around testing and learning for cookieless alternatives to identity and measurement. Ultimately, we’re hoping that the culmination of this delay and recent iOS changes are new sets of advertising solutions and regulations that are beneficial to both industry players and consumers.”

Consumers Want Transparency and Value in Use of Their Data Now

Anne Hunter, VP of Product Marketing, DISQO
Anne Hunter
Anne Hunter, VP of Product Marketing, DISQO

“Google may be giving marketers more time, but consumers aren’t waiting — they want transparency and value in use of their data now. Leaving cookies in the oven longer will only burn them further. Cookies remain an imperfect measurement tool, and marketers should seek zero-party data sources to get a fully-permissioned and complete view of their consumers’ journeys. Ultimately, over-reliance on cookies risks misalignment between a brand’s purpose and their consumers’ values.”

First-Party Data, Identity Graphs, Contextual Targeting and Connected TV

Kenneth Suh, Chief Strategy Officer, Tremor International
Kenneth Suh
Kenneth Suh, Chief Strategy Officer, Tremor International

“Given that Google will eventually sunset cookies, we have already been recommending that our clients explore alternative audience reach methodologies that leverage first-party data, identity graphs, contextual targeting and connected TV.

Particularly since the pandemic arrived last year, we’ve observed advertisers increasingly embracing CTV as a key component of their media budgets due to viewership exploding — but now there’ll be an additional influx of CTV adoption as brands and their agencies will have more time to test and optimize the inherently cookieless platform in advance.

Rather than circling another date on the calendar, marketers should delve deeper into the ramifications of bridging the identity gap as opposed to merely finding new technologies and processes. Ultimately, we still need to help clients deliver on their revenue targets, but we will continue to adhere to evolving privacy protocols in order to create the optimal consumer experience.”

Support the Incredible Diversity of News Publishers, Small Entrepreneurs, Content Providers, and Online Services

Bill Tucker
Bill Tucker, Executive Director, PRAM

Bill Tucker, Executive Director, Partnership for Responsible Addressable Media [PRAM], added, “Over the last ten months, PRAM and its hundreds of participating companies and trade associations have been focused on the development of a robust framework for privacy-protective, consumer-friendly identifiers that protect the core functionality of digital advertising, so it can continue to fund and support the incredible diversity of news publishers, small entrepreneurs, content providers, and online services that exists today. We remain steadfast and committed to that effort.”

“Google’s proposed browser-based initiatives are one piece of a much larger portfolio of potential solutions that we’re reviewing with its industry stakeholders, including both identifier-based and non-identifier approaches. We are pleased that Google has heeded the concerns of its industry partners and decided to delay its proposed changes to Chrome, given the significant remaining uncertainties around the impact of the change on the online ecosystem and the early stage of development of viable alternative technologies. This delay will provide additional time for testing and collaboration together, and we plan to continue to actively engage with Google as it further develops its plans.”

“Today’s news should not give anyone the illusion that we have the luxury of time. The clock is ticking, and we must be even more dedicated to the task at hand in the weeks and months ahead to ensure we can safeguard privacy, improve the consumer experience, and protect the ad-supported digital economy.”

Google Is Also Facing Growing Resistance From a Range of Third Parties

Greg Sterling, VP of Insights at Uberall

“There are a number of things going on here. One is that Google has run into questions in Europe about whether its privacy sandbox and FLoC approach will disadvantage smaller players in the market. Google is also facing growing resistance from a range of third parties that include Mozilla, WordPress and Amazon.

It was starting to look like FLoC would be compromised from the start.

Finally, most marketers are completely unprepared for the end of third-party cookies as a practical matter. All these considerations motivated Google’s delay announcement.”

Is It A Reaction to the United Kingdom’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) Engagement?

Lukasz Wlodarczyk, Private Ads Team Leader and Director of Global Inventory Partnerships, RTB House
Lukasz Wlodarczyk
Lukasz Wlodarczyk, Private Ads Team Leader and Director of Global Inventory Partnerships, RTB House

Ever since the announcement of “Privacy Sandbox” proposals, RTB House has perceived them as long-term, sustainable solutions supporting legitimate advertising use cases while respecting user privacy.

Since January 2020, we have put every effort into making our platform fully compatible with the Privacy Sandbox vision. We recently announced a vital milestone: we became the first DSP to successfully use Privacy Sandbox’s FLEDGE simulation, globally buying real advertising impressions for almost 500 advertisers. This is proof that the RTB House platform infrastructure is ready for the upcoming changes.

Today’s update from Google regarding the timeline for Privacy Sandbox milestones is one that we see as a quite positive move. It gives a more realistic timeline for other market participants and corresponds with engagement with the United Kingdom’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), as well as being in line with the commitments Google has offered.

We perceived the latest update to be a reaction to the United Kingdom’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) engagement, and feel it is in line with the commitments Google has offered. As a DSP that already uses Privacy Sandbox’s FLEDGE simulation, using it to globally buy real advertising impressions for almost 500 advertisers, we find the new timeline more realistic from the perspective of preparation for change by other market participants. It also gives more time for the community to test the next-generation solution.

This is probably an effect of ambitious goals set by the Chrome team. Also, we should consider that the pandemic has affected the majority of companies in the area of planning. The new, more realistic timeline might provide wider engagement on the testing stage of FLoC and FLEDGE and thus provide an even better quality of the end solution implemented inside the browser – one that is 100% market-ready. We believe that these are both positive aspects. Still, according to Google’s commitments, we are missing a detailed timeline for the testing and implementation of particular proposals inside Privacy Sandbox.

This update is about sharing a high-level timeline with the community. Both advertisers and publishers will get more time for engagement, testing, and contributions to Privacy Sandbox. However, the general direction in which things are moving has not changed.

It is essential to highlight that Google has transparently shared that “Chrome will phase out support for third-party cookies over a three-month period” after the published deadline.

With GDPR in Place, There Is No Way Google Would Release a Product That Only Works in Certain Markets

Jonathan D’Souza-Rauto, Biddable Product Lead, Infectious Media, part of Kepler Group

“There are a number of reasons why Google’s decision to delay the process of removing third-party cookies won’t surprise many in the digital media industry. It’s probably fair to say work on the alternative – Google’s privacy sandbox hasn’t moved as fast as expected and a lot of questions remain about certain aspects of it.

In Europe, Privacy Sandbox with FloC, in particular, had challenges with GDPR so there is no way Google would release a product that only works in certain markets. If they’d kept to their previous timeline to remove third-party cookies they would have needed to start acting on their promises to disconnect their ads products from Chrome, which has slowly started. Google is also under acute regulatory and legal scrutiny right now. So in this context, it probably makes sense to delay.”

Amazon Just Took out a Leg From Google’s FLoC

Todd Parsons, Chief Product Officer at Criteo
Todd Parsons
Todd Parsons, Chief Product Officer at Criteo

“My fear is that if the death of the cookie happens in slow motion, the sense of urgency amongst advertisers to rewrite the book on how they reach digital audiences might wane. We hope this news doesn’t give agencies and advertisers the justification to keep old and bad habits.”

“This delay presents a good opportunity for the ad industry to unite and align on alternative solutions to FLOC which raises more questions than answers. The industry needs to find a compelling solution that solves the competing needs of consumers and advertisers who fund the free web as we know it, without letting the biggest monopoly decide how this should be solved when, historically, their intentions have been self-serving.”

Amazon just took out a leg from Google’s FLoC – Amazon has quickly been replacing Google as the product search leader with the best purchase intent data on the internet. Without that data, Google’s FLoC will be limited in effectiveness for purchase intent targeting.

We’re entering a new era of privacy fragmentation and walled gardens as Google, Amazon, and Apple make their intentions clear to own the consumer’s attention and monetize with advertising. Make no mistake that the walled gardens are pursuing their own agendas on the back of privacy changes. The consumer likely won’t notice but the ad-tech landscape will look very different and publishers will be challenged to make sense of the fragmentation.

Thank you everyone for sharing your valuable insights! 

[To share your insights with us, please write to sghosh@martechseries.com]

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