Ad Tech & Ad Ops

What is Universal ID? Can it Help Publishers in the Post-Cookie World?

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Just as publishers were coming to grips with the aftermath of GDPR, a bigger threat to the existence of cookies has emerged. For a while now, browsers have been launching a crusade against third-party cookies.

First, it was Safari with its Intelligent Tracking Prevention (ITP), then Chrome announced that it’s going to launch enhanced cookie blocking controls, and most recently, Firefox started blocking cookies by default. Together, those three browsers control the majority of the market share. The rest is taken by privacy-focused browsers such as Brave, Epic, and Iridium.

All this means that cookie-blocking is going to increase at a rate that no one expected, leaving web publishers and ad companies hanging in the balance—trying to figure out how to cope with the situation. Except for walled gardens like Google and Facebook, who sit on a treasure trove of first-party data, the majority of the ad tech players rely on cookie-syncing to track users across the web for behavioral targeting. There is another problem, too: Cookie tracking does not work with 100% accuracy on mobile devices.

But the specifics don’t matter now because cookies are dying.

Life After Cookies with Universal IDs

What happens when using third-party cookies becomes untenable? One solution that is catching everyone attention revolves around the idea of Universal ID—a framework for user identification based on deterministic matching (as opposed to probabilistic matching with cookies).

Deterministic matching means the ability to accurately identify a user across multiple platforms and devices, without duplication.

Many ad tech companies and trade groups are building Universal ID solutions. This has fueled a format war to see who grabs the biggest market share. The good news is that the solutions play well with each other.

Publishers Benefits of Using Universal ID

The emergence of Universal ID may actually be a blessing in disguise for web publishers. This is because cookie-syncing with multiple partners is a flawed system that has many problems related to privacy, speed, and efficiency. Here are the benefits of switching over to Universal ID.

  • Immunity against cookie blocking: Since user identification and tracking happens by creating a deterministic match via universal ID, publishers don’t need to rely on third-party cookies anymore—and so, it doesn’t matter if they’re blocked by browsers.
  • Better user match rates: Unlike cookies, universal IDs work seamlessly across multiple devices such as desktop, tablet, and mobile devices. Some providers promise a near 100% accuracy rate in matching user identities when using their solution.
  • Improved revenue potential: Better user matching rates means that advertisers will be willing to pay more for the same inventory. Generally speaking, the more certain an advertiser is about the identity of a particular user, the higher they are likely to bid.
  • Better UX and viewability: Cookie-syncing, in its current state, requires callouts to multiple partners for optimizing match rate—increasing page latency. Universal ID may have a positive impact on ad viewability and UX by eliminating that process.

Most Popular Universal ID Solutions

DigiTrust by IAB: DigiTrust is a non-profit, industry-wide collaboration of companies building technology solutions that improve the digital experience for consumer, publishers, and advertisers. DigiTrust has taken on the challenge of reducing the number of third-party requests on webpages, through efforts to eliminate the need for pixel synchronization. The DigiTrust technology solution creates an anonymous user token, designed to be propagated by and between its members in lieu of billions of proprietary tokens and trackers on webpages daily.

Unified ID by theTradeDesk: As one of the largest independent demand-side platform (DSP), theTradeDesk has one of the most ubiquitous cookie footprints in the world. They provide their proprietary cookie ID for free with their unified ID solution. By letting any other DSP, supply-side platform (SSP), data management platform (DMP), and data provider match audience data using one of the most prevalent IDs in the ecosystem, theTradeDesk provides an opportunity to scale a truly universal ID. Their solution has seen one of the fastest adoption rates.

ID5: ID5 provides a centralized cookie matching service and a universal ID solution that publishers can leverage to operate more efficiently and to maximize the value of their inventory. Cookie matching allows publishers to monetize their audiences but also increases the risks of data leakage and GDPR defiance. ID5’s solution helps publishers manage ID synchronizations from a centralized platform and decide which partners can and cannot synchronize cookies on their website, improve match rates with their partners and increase programmatic revenue (even where third party cookies are blocked), improve the page load time and the on-site UX, and ensure privacy and consent management across their ecosystem.

Publisher Common ID: Publisher Common ID (PubCID) is a privacy-centric first-party cookie solution. Built with consumer privacy in mind. PubCID does not sync IDs across domains so the IDs your domain generates are yours to share with whom you choose. Because the user IDs generated are site-specific, there is no degradation of these IDs over time, improving user match rates. Additionally, latency issues generally caused by multiple callouts to various parties are significantly reduced, improving user experience, viewability and earnings.

Advertising ID Consortium: The consortium was created to enable buyers and sellers of programmatic advertising an opportunity to leverage a two-part identity framework of common cookies and people-based identifiers to create more relevant campaigns and improve user experiences. Currently, the consortium membership includes SSPs and DSPs who represent a large share of programmatic transactions in the open web. In 2018, the consortium opened its membership to marketers and publishers to participate in shaping the consortium’s priorities.

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