What We Learned at Dmexco 2019, Ad Tech’s Week in the Spotlight

Optimism over programmatic growth is muted by privacy headwinds

ad tech dmexco 2019
Programmatic companies are working together on new ways to track users in a post-cookie world.
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Ad tech’s week in the German spotlight has come to a close, with plenty to think about for the 40,000 advertising and marketing technology delegates at Dmexco.

IAB Europe opened the Dmexco conference, organized by Koelnmesse, with some eye-popping numbers: Programmatic spend is growing, topping 16.7 billion euros ($18.4 billion) in 2018, more than a year since the arrival of General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR). However, the sense of buoyancy at Dmexco in previous years was replaced with a somber sense of realism as U.S. regulators prepare to take the cue of their Europe-based counterparts and double-down on data governance.

Here’s what we learned this week.

Ad tech must reconcile privacy concerns

At the ATS London conference that kicks off Dmexco, ICO’s head of technology policy Ali Shah explained just how seriously the U.K.’s data protection authority was looking at ad tech’s compliance with GDPR.

“If information is being shared, then it needs to have the right data governance controls and technical components, and from what we found … we felt the controls were not robust enough,” Shah warned.

These warnings are being taken seriously by some of the largest names in the industry–a fact underlined by Google’s recently announced measures to clamp down on the tracking capabilities in its market-leading web browser Chrome.

More recently, Apple unveiled an API called SKAdNetwork, an update to the iOS app ecosystem which it claims will help advertisers measure the success of their campaigns while maintaining user privacy.

In typical fashion, Apple has done little to explain the extent of how this will affect advertisers’ ability to assess the effectiveness of their ad spend on iOS apps. Many at Dmexco interpreted this as a precursor to Apple rolling back IDFA, an identifier that has long been the default means of developers tracking how app users behaved post-ad exposure.

Similarly, Firefox—a web browser from the Mozilla Foundation small in scale but often deemed as a bellwether for developers—has started blocking third-party cookies, with publishers immediately feeling the pinch.

In an emailed statement, Andrew Casale, CEO of Index Exchange, explained to Adweek some of his observations on how this move has affected publishers in Germany, where the browser has a 30-40% market share.

With usage much higher than in other parts of the world, Casale said the change has “been felt strongly in Germany” in only a matter of weeks. “This has had direct and meaningful impacts on programmatic revenues and CPMs, as bid rates drop on account of a lack of addressability. This has crystallized the criticality of exploring solutions beyond the cookie.”

How to track users in a post-cookie world

Also in attendance at Dmexco was Johnny Ryan, chief policy officer and industry relations officer at fellow web browser Brave, who echoed the ICO’s Shah in expressing doubt about the legitimacy of the industry’s tracking methods. In particular, he cast doubt on a recently unveiled initiative from the IAB Tech Lab to find a more advanced solution to third-party cookies.

“The IAB and others have proposed to ID everybody on earth so that those who want privacy can thereby reveal it. I do not see how this could pass the GDPR test,” he said in a statement sent to Adweek.

However, such collaboration was a key theme at the show, with some attendees expressing hope for the independent ad-tech sector to collectively devise solutions that will fulfill advertisers’ needs while appeasing the demands of privacy advocates.

For instance, earlier in the week, the World Federation of Advertisers unveiled a partnership with Digital Decisions, an outfit that helps brands better implement ad-tech solutions, that would see the consultancy ease some of the fragmentation woes marketers have experienced.

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