Ad-Tech Experts Call for Third-Party Verification After the Death of the Cookie

Google’s proposals for machine learning-based frequency capping questioned

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Google is conducting experiments that would help to aid frequency capping in Chrome, but not everyone is satisfied with them.
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The “death of the third-party cookie” is a popular narrative shaping contemporary ad tech, with public inquisition into the extent of online targeting—and tracking—of consumers causing controversy.

Like it or not, the use of cookies, pieces of software that direct the flow of online ad spend by tracking audiences, is at the core of the $130 billion-per-year digital advertising economy, not to mention its entire value proposition.

However, legislation such as the California Consumer Privacy Act and General Data Protection Regulation are indicative of public distaste for the extent of online audience monitoring, and the largest consumer-facing brands are taking note.

This has prompted a somewhat voluntary rollback. The biggest names in digital media are exchanging public enthusiasm for ubiquitous connectivity for a more cautious tone. Google’s overt communications, for instance, are now more mindful of “transparency, choice and control” compared with the “don’t be evil” mantra of its earlier days.

This year, Google confirmed plans to overhaul online targeting in its market-leading Chrome browser, and although it didn’t go as far as Apple with its online tracking restrictions, the moves bring with them complications.

Ad networks, demand- and supply-side platforms and ad retargeters (not to mention advertisers and media buyers) have collectively held their breath since the initial revelations, with Google drip-feeding its intentions as 2019 rolls on.

Google’s Privacy Sandbox

This has come in the form of its Privacy Sandbox where it will explore how to deliver ads to large groups of similarly minded people without letting personally identifiable information leave the Chrome browser using technologies such as Federated Learning.

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More recently, it also unveiled plans to roll out a feature in its ad stack Display & Video 360 that will use machine learning to help advertisers manage ad frequency in environments where the use of third-party cookies is depreciated.

“Using traffic patterns where a third-party cookie is available and analyzing them at an aggregated level across Google Ad Manager publishers, we can create models to predict traffic patterns when a third-party cookie isn’t present,” wrote Rahul Srinivasan, product manager, ad privacy at Google, in a blog post outlining the company’s moves.

From here Google can estimate how likely it is for groups of users to visit different publishers who are serving the same ads through its tech stack.

“Then, when there is no third-party cookie present, we’re able to optimize how often those ads should be show to users,” Srinivasan added.

Per Wayne Blodwell, CEO of The Programmatic Advisory, Google is striking a balanced and sensible tone, especially given the depth of scrutiny it is facing and the unique role it plays in the industry.

“Contrary to popular belief, privacy, user experience and advertising don’t need to be mutually exclusive,” Blodwell told Adweek. “User experience and advertising tracking have always been at odds. On one side, you have those who think tracking of users in any capacity is completely unnecessary [similar to Apple] while on the other hand, you have an ad ecosystem reliant on tracking to measure success of campaigns and manage targeting/frequency of ads.”

According to Blodwell, the sheer scale of interests Google has in the industry means it needs to ensure both sides win, i.e. the multitude of ad-tech companies and publishers tied into its ad stack along with the billions of consumers that use its products. “I hope innovation and a non-extremist approach wins out, and Google is certainly leading that race,” he said.

Google’s intentions are widely questioned

However, not everyone is as enthusiastic. Many recall Google’s history of implementing commercial arrangements that play out in its own favor while other industry stakeholders are simply collateral.

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