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The future of identity dominates Adweek Town Hall

The future of internet identity is starting to take shape as advertising leaders prepare for the phasing out of third-party cookies next year. Many in the industry are coalescing around new, interoperable solutions such as Unified ID 2.0, which puts knowledge and control in the hands of the consumer.

At the same time, Google announced last week that it won’t support new identity technologies on the open internet. Instead, the search giant is leaning in on its Federated Learning of Cohorts, or FLoC, which builds behavioral profiles that are based on a user’s browsing activity. FLoC then groups the users with similar individuals.

That wouldn’t matter if it keeps a level playing field, though that might not be the case, according to The Financial Times. “Not surprisingly, the risk that Google will rebuild the world of online advertising around its own interests has some regulators feeling nervous,” the publication wrote. “Even if these worries are unfounded, Google will have designed a system that reflects its own powerful interests.”

These themes played out Monday during an Adweek town hall featuring David Pickles, co-founder and chief technology officer at The Trade Desk.

“A cohort tool such as Google’s could be a part of the future, but I’m not really convinced that it is in its current implementation,” Pickles said. He added that it’s unclear how consumers can remove themselves from specific cohorts in which Google has placed them. “It isn’t a great solution for a lot of advertisers and publishers, but it’s also potentially not great for consumers, too,” he said.

Google declined to participate in the event, Adweek said.

50 million users

Despite the looming changes, Pickles said both publishers and marketers can still transact one-to-one advertising through innovations such as UID 2.0, which already has more than 50 million users, according to the Wall Street Journal, even before it goes into beta testing next week.

“The gold standard for privacy is when you can get an opt in from an email address and clearly explain to the consumer what’s going on with their data,” said Pickles. “With cookies, everything just happened by default and data just kind of went everywhere.”

UID 2.0, on the other hand, is being designed around the consumer and the protection of their privacy. The consumer’s information is not identifiable, they get a clear explanation of the value exchange of free content for relevant advertising, and they get to decide how their data gets used. Unified ID 2.0 is a broad industry collaboration that includes publishers, advertisers and all players in the ad tech ecosystem. Companies including the Washington Post, Magnite, PreBid, Nielsen, Index Exchange and LiveRamp are among the many who have thrown their support behind the initiative.

It also operates with consumer privacy in mind both here in the U.S. and abroad, said Pickles. “UID provides an opportunity to have conversations with consumers and provide them with the sort of transparency we as an industry have been trying to provide for a really long time,” he said.