Criteo is exploring a services layer for Privacy Sandbox 

To all the befuddled ad tech vendors scratching their heads over the hefty tech and financial requirements for Google’s dicey cookie alternatives — fret not. Criteo’s got you.

While nothing’s set in stone, it seems more like a matter of when, not if, these companies will be able to tap into Criteo’s tech, sparing them the headache of building and financing their own solutions.

Todd Parsons, the chief product officer, said as much to Digiday, mentioning that he and his team are working with Google to tackle this issue head-on.

Tapping its Bidswitch legacy 

“When you think about the longer tail of supply-side platforms and demand-side platforms that were serviced by Bidswitch, we’re also thinking about a services layer,” said Parsons. “It’s something that we’re in active conversation with the Privacy Sandbox team about.”

The mention of Bidswitch is crucial. Much of the ad tech ecosystem and infrastructure can be traced back there. And who snapped up its owner IPONWEB two years ago? Yes, Criteo. So it’s no surprise to see Parsons talking like this.

“There is an opportunity to enable longer tail partners, both SSPs and DSPs, that don’t have the resources to get ready and to participate or might benefit from services that we provide,” said Parsons.

It’s something that we’re in active conversation with the Privacy Sandbox team about.
Todd Parsons, chief product officer, Criteo

Greg MacDonald, founder of consultancy service Chelsea Strategies, noted how any Privacy Sandbox services provision from Criteo would represent it tapping IPONWEB’s historical roots when it was renowned for providing ad tech infrastructure for the open web.  

“IPONWEB has always been about facilitating connections for the programmatic ecosystem and given this core expertise, we are likely to see sandbox solutions from them that will support the industry as it transitions to a cookieless world,”MacDonald explained to Digiday. 

It’s hardly a “might”, to be fair. Every ad tech business stands to benefit from this, given the hefty costs involved in tackling this challenge alone.

Just to develop the tech needed to support Google’s alternatives in the Privacy Sandbox could set companies back around $7 million. And that’s not even considering the additional costs of maintenance, support, and consulting needed to bring such a monumental project to market. 

It seems Criteo’s latest venture won’t be short of takers. 

Even the ad tech vendors who have made peace with the eye-bulging costs needed to support the sandbox haven’t found it easy.

“Committing resources becomes more difficult when the probability of success and timeliness are uncertain,” said a senior ad tech exec, who exchanged anonymity for candor. “We’re a profitable company with a free cash flow, so diverting investment away from core operations is always made more difficult by a high-opportunity cost (cost of capital). We believe in the mission of the Privacy Sandbox, and the competency and capabilities of our partners, so we feel good placing a larger bet on this existential opportunity.”

‘An XL project’ 

According to separate sources who were not cleared to speak with the press but have knowledge of Criteo’s recent experimentation, the France-headquartered outfit has allocated approximately 50 engineers to work on such Privacy Sandbox projects, a level of resource that few of its peers have similarly committed to. 

Related Insights

However, whether large swathes of the ad tech industry will flock to Criteo in droves is still up in the air. Some ad tech bosses might balk at the idea of boosting a competitor’s finances, no matter the potential savings. What was successful for IPONWEB as an independent entity might not necessarily thrive under Criteo’s management.

Feedback from a Bidswitch-hosted event late last year points to just how much of a “heavy lift” DSPs face regarding the era-defining transition. Privacy Sandbox faces such entities with a number of logistical challenges, with some asserting that it essentially requires DSPs to build a separate buying tool to operate within the cookie-less version of Google Chrome.

“A lot of people were like deer in the headlights,” said one event attendee, who requested anonymity as the November 2023 conference was conducted under the Chatham House rule.

“This is not just an XL [scale project] in terms of developer resource,” added another source who suggested that DSPs must allocate at least 10 engineers to such experimentation. “And that’s just to get to the baseline, not to reach full parity with how ad targeting can be done now [with third-party cookies].”

Google sticks to its 2024 cookieless deadline

Further still, a recent publication from IAB Tech Lab made evident the extent of concern among independent ad tech companies regarding their readiness to use the Privacy Sandbox APIs and run a viable ad tech operation. 

The IAB Tech Lab’s Privacy Sandbox Task Force, which represents the interests of more than 60 entities, recently analyzed 44 use cases of Google’s APIs currently available, asserting the vast majority of them were not fit for purpose in their current form. 

Despite this, the Privacy Sandbox team seems adamant about sticking to its current trajectory of phasing out third-party cookies in Google Chrome by the end of the year. 

Speaking with Digiday in February 2024, Victor Wong, senior director of product management at Google, added, “People are asking basically for things without really thinking about how this improves privacy, or does this degrade privacy?”

The IAB Tech Lab’s Privacy Sandbox Task Force’s assessment is open for public comment until March 22 and will be finalized the following month.

More in Media Buying

How CTV and DOOH are growing this political season for smaller agencies

Connected TV and digital out-of-home are playing a bigger role in upcoming elections and politics – especially for smaller agencies looking to place clients’ dollars.

How companies can avoid creating an accidental manager: The Return podcast, season 3, episode 2

Just because you are good at a particular skill doesn’t mean that you would make a good manager. So, why is that the standard career path?

MediaMath has signed dozens of SSPs, including former short-changed creditors, after ad tech’s biggest bankruptcy

Trading partners such as Magnite, PubMatic, and Index Exchange have returned as part of the DSP’s relaunch under the Infillion banner.