Unified IDs Up, Cookies Down: Q&A With Index Exchange

Every time I hear someone ask, “After Chrome’s merciless slaughter, what will replace the third-party cookie?” I fight the urge to smash my head against the wall. I’ve started carrying a pillow with me to mute the inevitable “ARGH!” that bursts from my diaphragm; my office colleagues are quite grateful.

The industry doesn’t need a direct replacement for the third-party tracking cookie, and there are already a variety of solutions out there to take its place without mentioning Google’s budding privacy sandbox.

To dive further into the many identification options circling around the industry, I caught up with one of my favorite resources on the subject, Mike O’Sullivan, VP of Product at Index Exchange and a key member of the Advertising ID Consortium. We chatted about the much-ballyhooed privacy sandbox from Google; Mozilla’s rejection of the DigiTrust ID; the future of attribution and measurement; and the latest developments in the Ad ID Consortium.

GAVIN DUNAWAY: Will Google’s privacy sandbox replace publishers’ need for unified IDs?

Mike O'Sullivan Index Exchange

Mike O’Sullivan, VP Product, Index Exchange

MIKE O’SULLIVAN: I don’t see much of a future for platform-exclusive identifiers, but when consumer consent is present, publishers will still need an identifier that buyers understand and can transact against.  In practice, common identifiers will still exist, but their presence on a given publisher’s traffic will be dictated by the relationship between the consumer and publisher.

GD: Mozilla rejected DigiTrust’s ID—how do you not see that as a bad omen for other unified IDs? How are you approaching/negotiating with the browsers?

MO: My sense is that the rejection is due to, in part, the mass proliferation of an identifier across multiple publishers. If a consumer provides consent to a publisher, and the usage is disclosed within the publisher’s privacy policy, it seems reasonable that the publisher can utilize a common identifier on their site. It’s really the uncontrolled, cross-site identification that is problematic, not necessarily the “identifier” itself.

Aggressive tactics from browsers also created and perpetuated the “arms race” around fingerprinting, with publishers caught in the middle.  When Mozilla announced in September that it would automatically block third-party cookies by default, it had a material effect on publishers’ revenue, particularly in markets where Firefox has a high market share.

For us, the key is to invest in solutions that are built atop user consent and privacy, leveraging first-party data—sandboxed to an individual publisher—to create addressable media opportunities from there.

GD: While it seems there are a great deal of solutions out there to bypass third-party cookies for audience targeting, is there a replacement for third-party measurement technology based on those cookies?

MO: Attribution is incredibly important to our ecosystem, and to date, forward-looking solutions have mostly focused on click-based attribution.  We believe in more deterministic modes of measurement and attribution—modes that, like addressability for publishers, are built on a foundation of consumer trust and sandboxing.

GD: Publishers are really curious about universal IDs but confused both about how to jump on board as well as how signing up benefits them. Care to clarify?

MO: Absolutely.  First and foremost, it’s important publishers are prioritizing user consent and their readers, or users, are opting in to participate here. As an example, let’s say we have ‘Trusted Publisher X,’ and they’ve obtained this consent via authentication. When a reader logs onto their site, the log-in serves as a key, allowing them to unlock content.

For us, the key is to invest in solutions that are built atop user consent and privacy, leveraging first-party data—sandboxed to an individual publisher—to create addressable media opportunities from there.

At Index, we view this log-in as a key that can open two locks: Content and addressability. That email address is then ‘hashed’ into an anonymous string of characters, which—using the proper Identity framework—can then become an anonymous ID for that user, allowing us to target and execute campaigns in an incredibly secure, trusted manner. Publishers need to focus on this value exchange, not necessarily on universal IDs—and they can do so by creating a positive experience for users in an environment that they trust.

GD: With AppNexus’ “exit” from the Ad ID consortium, there was a fair deal of confusion over what came next for the identifier. What misconceptions are lingering on, and what have been the biggest developments over the last year?

MO: I think the misconception is that there was only a single identifier within the Consortium.  There were always multiple, common identifiers, and we don’t think we’re “done” in terms of Consortium-approved identifiers.  Ultimately, it will be important for publishers and marketers to decide which common identifier(s) they want to support.

In terms of developments, it’s been exciting to see more and more DSPs announce support for common identifiers, allowing for transactions within the bid request that are not predicated on the exchange or DSP’s specific identifier.  This is an important, foundational piece of functionality that is required in a post 3rd party cookie world.