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How is ad privacy impacting the digital marketing industry?6 min read

6 min read

In recent years, consumer privacy has transformed from a wildly mysterious topic into front page news. It was largely defined by large organisations preying on the asymmetric information surrounding the topic. However, as people’s awareness and understanding of privacy continue to become increasingly more proficient, the shockwaves are being felt throughout a number of key industries.

For the past 15 years, we have pitched digital advertising as a variety of marketing channels with ‘unbeatable targeting and measurement capabilities’. However, concerns around privacy will ultimately lead to both targeting and measurement being compromised, as Chrome announced earlier this year that they would join the likes of Firefox and Safari in phasing out the cookie by 2022.

In this article, we will explore how the increased understanding of privacy has impacted the digital marketing industry, and why it is so important to keep privacy concerns front of mind in 2020.

How is addressability and personalisation going to change?

A cookie-less internet will inhibit specific user-level personalisation. Some Ad Tech products may struggle without cross-site tracking, which will have an inevitable impact on personalised ads.

More and more people are now realising that with online advertising, there’s always a tradeoff. In exchange for being served an ad, you will then be given access to read a news article, or speak to friends and family on the other side of the world for ‘free’. However, advertisers have to respect this exchange and attain the data in the correct way.

“Users prefer personalised ads, but only if they offer transparency and control.”

 
Users prefer personalised ads, but only if they offer transparency and control. Chrome’s features such as Ad Settings, Activity Controls, and ‘Why am I seeing this ad?’ allows for this. For example, the ‘Why am I seeing this ad?’ feature enables users to get more information on some of the factors that were used when serving the ad to them, and even allows them to opt-out of seeing that ad. There are over 15 million user interactions per day with this feature, as people seek to gain more understanding and control over the ads they see.

On the other hand, personalised ads become an issue when this data is not attained and utilised transparently, and partners use opaque or hidden techniques to transfer data and track users in a covert manner. One such example of this is fingerprinting; this is when advertisers use publicly available information, such as device, location, or other pieces of data, to create a ‘fingerprint’ of the user to further track their interactions with adverts. Personally, I believe that any attempts to track people or obtain information that could identify them without their knowledge and permission should be blocked.

What are the most important identity-based solutions currently in the market?

As we touched on earlier, Chrome features such as Ad Settings, Activity Controls and ‘Why am I seeing this ad?’ were a good first step in helping users understand their personal data, and how it is being leveraged for marketing. Most recently, Chrome also launched the alpha version of Ads Transparency Spotlight, a chrome extension that gives users more visibility on the data used to personalise ads, as well as increased control over that data. The extension includes information on the criteria used to show these ads, the Ad Tech companies helping to display these ads, and the ad platform companies serving these ads on a web page. It also lists all companies and services with a presence on the page, like content delivery networks or analytics providers. 

Tools such as Privacy Sandbox, Ads Data Hub and The Trade Desk’s (TTD) Unified ID 2.0 also aim to maintain as much insight and targeting functionality as possible, without needing to expose personal data.

Privacy Sandbox

Chrome continues to explore more privacy-forward ways for the web browser to support digital ads with the Privacy Sandbox open standards initiative. At the core of this initiative is reporting for and considering the client instead of the server, which can allow for more privacy-friendly ways of advertising.

Several proposals, as part of the Privacy Sandbox, have been published for new application programming interfaces (APIs) that would solve for use cases like ad selection, conversion measurement, and fraud protection in a way that doesn’t reveal identifying information about individual users. One of the proposed APIs for trust tokens could distinguish between bots and real users to combat ad fraud; this is now available for testing by developers, and more will move to live testing soon.

TTD Unified ID 2.0

TTD is building out the second iteration of its Unified ID. The idea is to create an open-source sign-on solution for the open web that the entire digital industry can participate in. Version 1.0 utilised third party cookies, so TTD is now developing version 2.0, which will remove third-party cookies from the equation. This version will initially rely on encrypted email addresses from opted-in consumers. There is still a lot of work to be done to get publishers on board, but it is definitely an innovative initiative.

How will our industry change in the coming years?

Ultimately, user concerns and growing awareness of personal data has encouraged the positive changes to date – in the form of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) first in May 2018, and then the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) report in June 2019. User privacy and the confidence of users has to be at the core of the future of the industry, as everyone should have control over their own personal information.

“User privacy and the confidence of users has to be at the core of the future of the industry, as everyone should have control over their own personal information.”

 
Prior to GDPR, there was little to no personal data privacy laws in place, but Cambridge Analytica and Snowden’s National Security Agency (NSA) report made headline news, and privacy became relevant.

Identity within digital marketing is going to change for the better – it’s going to be a massive step forward for the industry, not a setback. Some Ad Tech products may struggle with the inevitable detriment to personalised ads and the lack of cross-site tracking. However, big businesses, like Criteo, will likely reach a solution that does both. It will also become important for Data Management Platforms (DMPs) to reconsider the third-party cookie aspect of their offering.

Ultimately, we hope to reach a place where we are able to maintain as much insight and targeting functionality as possible, whilst ensuring privacy to personal user data remains paramount.

If you’d like to learn more about ad privacy, or how Croud can help you enhance your online advertising strategy, get in touch with our Programmatic team!