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The open web vs. the walled garden: Is interoperability the key to winning the cookieless race?

A three-person tandem bike speeds ahead of another cyclist leaving a cloud of sand.

Illustration by Reagan Hicks / Shutterstock / The Current

Google, the largest advertising player on both the sell and buy sides, dropped a bomb on the industry when it announced cookie deprecation in Chrome. Whatever you think about this move, it’s undeniable that the announcement has produced a wave of innovation within the digital advertising industry.

As soon as the news dropped in 2020, multiple independent industry players started to bring their cookieless solutions to market. While some unveiled entirely new offerings, others revamped existing solutions and a few simply rebranded themselves as cookieless alternatives.

In the meantime, Google also started to develop its own framework to power advertising without third-party cookies: Privacy Sandbox. The initiative has received substantial criticism from the industry, including organizations such as the IAB Tech Lab. Privacy Sandbox includes multiple restrictive features that can hinder competition and fails to support all the use cases marketers rely on.

Today, marketers find themselves struggling to evaluate the avalanche of solutions available. The harsh reality is that not all of these solutions will be available in the next year or two. That’s leaving many marketers to ask themselves: What solution should I invest in?

On one side, marketers have multiple solutions from independent players, and on the other side, there is the one provided by Google. A few independent alternatives have achieved notable adoption rates and have been able to share results and success stories demonstrating their effectiveness. Google can’t claim the same, but thanks to its vast influence on the market, it has still attempted to position Privacy Sandbox as the ultimate cookieless alternative.

Privacy Sandbox has not received much praise or support so far, but the risk of it becoming the addressability standard shouldn’t be underestimated. Allowing this to happen would come at a great cost to the entire industry and give this Goliath even more unwarranted power. So how can independent solution providers gain brands’ support and help them reduce their reliance on Google?

Independent alternative solutions know that fragmentation hinders adoption. To support brands’ addressability needs in the post-cookie era, collaboration within identity solutions, media owners and platforms is crucial. This is where interoperability comes into play.

"Collaboration may be the defense the open web needs to win its battle against digital advertising’s Goliath."

Interoperability can have different flavors, but overall, it can be classified into two main groups: interoperability between identity solutions and, more widely, interoperability between identity solutions and various players in the advertising value chain.

Let’s start with interoperability between identity solutions. Universal identifiers, identity graphs, and data clean rooms are widely recognized and adopted addressability solutions. While they may initially appear competitive, there is a path for collaboration for these solutions to enhance marketing outcomes. Here are a few examples of what this can look like.

Interoperability between IDs is one of the more common examples. Combining a publisher’s footprint and reach with two or more cookieless IDs enables marketers to access a larger pool of audiences, increasing their chances of finding the right audiences for their campaigns. These types of collaborations already exist and are set to increase between more established ID solutions as the industry continues to consolidate around a handful of identifiers.

Another opportunity for interoperability is integrating cookieless IDs within an identity graph. This increases the graph’s ability to reach audiences across cookieless environments, making it resilient to signal loss and effective in the short and long terms. Such collaborations enable marketers to benefit from increased reach and to deploy effective people-based strategies.

When cookieless IDs are integrated with data clean rooms, they offer a secure way to share data between buyers and sellers. By using a cookieless ID as a key to connect publishers and brands’ audiences, data clean rooms can better match the data sets, enabling marketers to activate more audiences.

The positive impact of cooperation among different identity solutions is undeniable. However, this significance is amplified when publishers and ad tech platforms embrace these technologies. Think about identity solutions as the pipes that connect the digital advertising ecosystem. When media owners and ad tech platforms connect to these pipes, nearly all internet traffic becomes addressable, marking the pinnacle of cookieless addressability.

Collaboration may be the defense the open web needs to win its battle against digital advertising’s Goliath. By coming together, the open web will realize that interoperability amplifies the reach and effectiveness of individual solutions, creating a more cohesive ecosystem.

The combined power and effectiveness of independent identity solutions is incredibly superior to the Privacy Sandbox and its limited capabilities. By fostering collaboration between addressability technologies across the advertising value chain, we can offer brands a cohesive and effective addressability experience, reduce our dependence on Google and make Privacy Sandbox as irrelevant as Google+.

This op-ed represents the views and opinions of the author and not of The Current, a division of The Trade Desk, or The Trade Desk. The appearance of the op-ed on The Current does not constitute an endorsement by The Current or The Trade Desk.