Does Hope For an Open Universal ID Exit With AppNexus?

From the second AT&T announced its AppNexus acquisition, it’s been clear that the telecom giant was going to try to build its own walled garden, a top to bottom ad-buying solution leveraging its stores of data.

So it wasn’t all that surprising when AppNexus pulled out of the Advertising ID Consortium as it completes its merger with AT&T. Why would you partner up with the Duopoly’s rivals when you could potentially rival Google and Facebook yourself?

Conversations around the consortium have had dark clouds hanging over them since before the merger news broke. It doesn’t help that LiveRamp, the cross-device targeting platform central to the consortium, has supposedly been up for sale for a while.

AppNexus’ withdrawal from the consortium will definitely cause havoc as the shared identifier is based on AppNexus’ domain As AdExchanger pointed out, this made sense in the early days of the consortium, because the exchange initially boasted the largest cookie pool and devoted the most resources. Migrating data away the AppNexus domain might be a tricky proposition for the 30-odd companies that remain in the consortium.

But hope for a universal ID is not dead. Around the same time this summer that the AppNexus acquisition started making noise, one-time universal ID rival Digitrust welcomed the Advertising ID Consortium into its fold. This was quite the team-up as DigiTrust, now part of the IAB Tech Lab, offered a neutral domain for the shared identifier.

Former consortium member MediaMath actually left this summer to cozy up to Digitrust, and according to AdExchanger has been advocating for a product reboot using the neutral domain. Depending on how much work can be salvaged from, this is probably a good time to pivot.

Showing that it’s hedging its bets, AT&T has not ruled out AppNexus rejoining the consortium. Recent test cases have suggested crafting a walled garden via the conjunction of telecom and digital ad play is a Herculean effort. There’s also that forlorn chance that broadband consumer privacy rules are reinstated—in the wake of GDPR, crazier things have happened (have you read about the California Consumer Privacy Act?).

So the departure of AppNexus is not the death knell for the universal ID project, but a serious hindrance to progress—albeit one that may refocus the project in a better direction.

Ultimately, an open universal ID is the rising tide that will lift most programmatic boats (besides the yachts of the walled gardens), creating a level playing field where tech can truly be judged on its merits. Theoretically most digital ad buyers, sellers, and intermediaries not named Google or Facebook will benefit.

The dream is not dead, but it likely will be delayed.