What Are the Prospects of the IAB’s ‘Great Collab’?

The trade org's attempt to harmonize publishing and ad tech is met with willingness—and some dissent

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The IAB has called for a new set of industry standards. Getty Images
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Key insights:

Last week, the IAB played host to the industry’s largest gathering since Google time-called on third-party cookies in its market-leading Chrome web browser.

In conference rooms at the luxurious JW Marriott hotel in sunny Palm Desert, the IAB and IAB Tech Lab outlined proposals for the industry to pursue whereby they could seek alternatives to aid online ad targeting in a post-cookie world.

As the industry is about to pull the old blow-in-the-cartridge Nintendo trick to restart itself, there has been some degree of confusion, debate and dissent as to what this reboot looks like. With a 2022 deadline, what is clear is that there is much more work to be done ahead of then.

The way forward?

Dubbed ‘Project Rearc,’ the trade org called for industrywide collaboration to offer media buyers a first-party data-based alternative to the walled gardens. This reportedly involves the trade org seeking the support of the Association of National Advertisers and 4A’s as well as an attempt to educate the public on the mechanics of online advertising.

The proposals discussed included the potential of using consumer-provided identifiers, such as hashed email addresses obtained by a brand or a publisher, which cannot be reverse-engineered to reveal PII and clearly indicates a users’ privacy preferences. This identifier can then only be accessed by verified third parties which have signed up to a code of conduct and are open to external audit, for the purposes of addressable advertising.

Uncertainty remains

The fate of these proposals remains unclear. The fact that a multitude of parties whose interests and philosophies may not necessarily be aligned brings with it some difficulties that have to be traversed. For example, voices in the publishing industry were quick to raise concerns that the proposed industry standards may favor ad-tech vendors to the detriment of the publishers.

Meanwhile, Google is mooting its Privacy Sandbox initiative, an attempt to solve the post-cookie issue in its Chrome browser, but equally few details of that scheme are currently clear. Many fear its proposals will favor Google’s own ad stack, despite its protestations; hence the online advertising industry’s major trade and tech standards body is calling for “the great collab,” which will require global participation with publishers as a linchpin to the success of the initiative.

Better together?

U.S. publishers and ad-tech companies have collaborated to counter the seemingly inevitable rise of walled gardens in the past. For instance, DCN-owned TrustX is the result of a collaboration between the outfit and Iponweb.

However, although the prospect of combining the contextual quality and mass-market reach in a publisher alliance may sound ideal for media buyers, such initiatives have a checkered history. Concerns over the potential for data leakage plus historical rivalries between publishers that have competed for ad dollars, cover sales and editorial content have caused complications for years.

Despite this, operations like these now appear to be gaining traction in the market. Take the European netID Foundation in Germany, Gravity Alliance in France and The Ozone Project in the U.K. for example.

According to industry experts, the increasing dominance of walled gardens has led to a renewed willingness among publishers to embrace a collective approach, especially in the balkanized markets of Europe and APAC.

Fabien Magalon, managing director of Gravity Alliance, told Adweek, “The concept is now well understood, but of course the devil is in the detail. … Some publishers will always be selective in their alliances, but the mentality has changed because of the increased pressures of the market.”

Trusted partners?

Maintaining the integrity and security of publisher data, as well as consumer privacy preferences, is crucial to any future great collaboration.

Speaking with Adweek, Danny Spears, COO of The Ozone Project, explained some of the weariness publishers have developed from their historic experiences of ad tech, which some argue has led to government intervention in the sector in the guise of CCPA and GDPR.

“The way publishers have to look at it is to think about who they can trust,” Spears added.

Spears added that publishers must also consider how any “great collab” will influence where online ad spend will be directed. He added, “Premium publishers have to ask themselves, ‘Do we want to contribute our most prized asset [first-party data and relationship with a reader] to a pool which will support the redistribution of ad spend to the long tail of the internet?’”

The differing philosophies among myriad industry stakeholders have also led some to question if any solution can gain the traction necessary to meet marketers’ demand for audiences at scale.

However, Germany’s netID initiative, an alliance of 20 online businesses that operates a registration wall asking users to register for content across a host of publisher websites, is arguably the most advanced login alliance in the market.

Reports claim the service has an addressable audience of up to 38 million users across sites from RTL Group, ProSiebenSat and United Internet, with Achim Schlosser, CTO of European netID Foundation, telling Adweek the solution was deliberately designed to scale.

“You can think of it as the same move that Google did with using Gmail accounts [to act as a conduit for identity data] for all of their services, and this is something that we are doing likewise on a broad basis for netID publishers but not a walled garden,” he added.

Similar coalitions have also been in operation in the APAC markets, with initiatives in Australia, Indonesia, Japan, New Zealand and Singapore serving as some of the most high-profile examples. While the majority of ID collaborations in Western markets may hinge on using email addresses as their genesis of an identifier, mobile phone numbers will be more important in developing markets across the region.

Wendy McEwan, head of marketing and digital at Knight Frank and board member of the Marketing Society, Asia, told Adweek this dynamic means that major mobile services providers, plus local outfits like Grab and Tencent, will play an important role in this regard.

The privacy consideration

However, not all agree that the notion of using a centralized ID, regardless of its origin, is the best way forward now that the industry’s major browser providers are calling for the end of the cookie, and regulators are leaning in.

According to Nick Halstead, CEO of InfoSum, using hashed email addresses or phone numbers that are collected and stored in a central location is just not compliant with laws such as GDPR. He proposes a federated approach whereby the industry’s various identity providers, such as LiveRamp’s Advertising ID Solution and The Trade Desk’s Unified ID, can effectively use a distributed model to provide the scale and anonymity the market (and regulators) call for.

“I believe that the ‘community’ will revolve around a ‘give to get’ approach to building a federated solution (and not just ours) to bring together independent large-scale identity providers to work together,” Halstead told Adweek.

Speaking separately, Remi Cakel, Teads’ vp of data, appeared to agree with the notion of a “neutral place” for industry collaboration and emphasis on user privacy.

“The challenge of our industry is not the cookie—it’s about having progressively lost the customer confidence,” he said.

“Furthermore, the associated data privacy is managed through barely understandable terms and conditions that only a few users are really reading. So, it’s about finding a solution that would allow the user to take control regarding what they share, with whom and for what purpose in conditions that the user can truly understand.”

@ronan_shields ronan.shields@adweek.com Ronan Shields is a programmatic reporter at Adweek, focusing on ad-tech.