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Why is it imperative we replumb the internet?

A stamper and a passport filled with various programmatic-related stamps sits atop a crushed cookie.

Illustration by Holly Warfield / Getty / The Current

In the race to replace cookies once Google supposedly eliminates them from its Chrome browser at some point late next year (barring any further delays), it’s sometimes easy to lose sight of why we’re talking about cookies in the first place – the need for advertisers to disseminate and measure relevant advertising campaigns.

Let’s remember – advertisers didn’t create cookies. And to be honest, it’s not that they ever really wanted to use them in the first place. Cookies were never designed for advertising. They were simply co-opted as the least-bad solution available. And they only cover the browsing internet, not the fastest growing channels in digital media, such as audio, apps, and streaming TV.

As we think about a world without cookies, it would be shortsighted to try and replace them with the same functionality - because we can do so much better. We can build something that preserves the value exchange of relevant advertising for free content on the internet – while massively upgrading consumer privacy.

There are a few fundamentals of the internet that are top of mind for me as I think about how to accomplish this. First, the internet is not free. Journalism outlets, for example, need to cover the costs of the reporters who produce great news content. Second, advertisers have no interest in jeopardizing consumer trust. Many of them have spent decades building brand loyalty and don’t want to do anything that might put those relationships at risk. And last, perhaps because of these dynamics, more and more of the internet is becoming authenticated – meaning as users, we recognize we have to log in to see content.

Almost the entire streaming TV ecosystem is authenticated. We log in with our emails, so that streaming TV companies can either manage our subscriptions, or serve us relevant advertising (as another way to pay for this new golden age of TV). Almost all apps require us to log in. Increasingly, news sites ask us to authenticate with an email. This trend will only accelerate as publishers and advertisers reimagine the role of identity in a post-cookie, omni-channel context.

Why? Because almost all of these experiences are funded by advertising. And with authentication, we finally solve the foundational problem of cookies. Authentication, and the cross-channel identifiers that support it (such as Unified ID 2.0 and others), allows advertisers to manage campaigns optimally across all channels. They can see, for example, if a certain audience group has seen a particular ad on a streaming platform, and then manage the frequency of that ad for the viewer across all channels. Advertisers have no interest in bombarding users with the same ad over and over. They know it’s not good for their brand. But until now, they haven’t had great tools for managing that.

This dynamic also has the potential to greatly improve the consumer experience. Not simply because we won’t have to sit through the same ad over and over, but because ultimately we’ll see fewer, more relevant ads. If I’m a foodie and a golfer, would I rather see a few targeted ads on those topics or many more ads on random topics?

Authentication also provides users with greater privacy and simpler ways to manage signing-in, identity and privacy settings. With tools like Unified ID 2.0 (UID2), the user can log-in once and then manage their authentication across the open internet. Their authentication is based on an email which is hashed and encrypted, and it carries no personal information with it. And the consumer can always opt-out.

As Unified ID 2.0 becomes more ingrained into the internet’s data ecosystem, and as it is deployed by more of the world’s leading publishers (including many of the top streaming TV organizations), we’re already starting to see the benefits. Increasingly, advertisers gravitate to ad impressions where UID2 is present, and they are willing to pay meaningfully more for those impressions. Unilever, for example, recently found that ad impressions containing UID2 were 12 times more effective at reaching its target audience across Disney content than with traditional identifiers.

The math of these kinds of case studies becomes inevitable: Advertisers can serve fewer ads, and reach the right audience. The audience enjoys a more engaging, relevant advertising experience. And the publisher gets to make more great shows.

With new identity management tools, consumers can authenticate across the internet much more easily, understand clearly why they are being asked to authenticate (no more indecipherable cookie permissions), and manage their own privacy settings.

And in doing so, the internet will effectively be replumbed and upgraded. And we’ll be able to preserve the very valuable role that advertising plays in funding our incredible internet experience.