Privacy changes are ushering in a new era of adtech collaboration


By Len Ostroff, SVP, strategic partnerships and alliances at Criteo

A new age of consumer privacy is forcing adtech to confront some painful truths, creating existential challenges for the entire industry. The value exchange between publishers and consumers — that advertising is how consumers “pay” for great content — has not been clearly communicated and is certainly not well understood. 

Adtech has opaquely used data to put the right ad in front of the right person at the right time and on the right device. The only way to regain consumers’ trust is by helping them understand how and why their data is being used and providing clear and easy ways for them to opt-in or out. Solving this challenge requires the entire adtech industry to work together to preserve the enormous variety of content enjoyed on the open internet.

Collaboration and partnerships in adtech have typically been hard to come by, leading market-moving companies to make unilateral decisions that they believe are in the best interest of their customers, and arguably, themselves. As a new environment of privacy and identity realities set in, so does the need for adtech to band together and create a new consumer-focused paradigm. A truly sustainable solution requires putting consumer needs ahead of everything else and addressing these challenges with a collaborative mindset.

The future of the open internet is at stake

The adtech industry is determined to fundamentally change how it provides value to consumers — from creating personalized and interesting content to recommending relevant brands and products. The current conversations around identity, privacy and transparency beg the question: What’s really at stake for the future of the open internet if we fail to develop a privacy-safe, consented and transparent alternative to cookies that consumers can trust?

Some of the world’s large tech companies, such as Apple, have forced changes onto the industry, requiring developers and publishers to quickly update their sites and apps or risk Apple’s wrath — and, more importantly, reduced revenues. While the IDFA consent requirements imposed by Apple will ultimately be a positive change for the industry, doing so on short notice and without input from those who depend on the Apple ecosystem puts livelihoods at risk. The variety of content that we enjoy from the open internet hangs precariously in the balance when just a few enormous companies wield their power and can determine the fate of an entire industry.

Collaboration is key to solving consumer privacy concerns

The adtech industry has faced many challenges and each time it has developed innovative and creative solutions that serve many constituents, and its leadership has heard and deeply understood the need for improved privacy and consumer controls. Now, collaboration will be crucial as the industry builds a new framework that puts consumers at the center and provides them with the data transparency and tools that they deserve.

The past few months have seen the industry come together to solve one of its most challenging issues. Google is actively participating in the W3C to develop new privacy standards. It’s engaging with and listening to feedback from the adtech industry and recently announced Dovekey, an iteration of their original TURTLEDOVE proposal that integrates parts of Criteo’s own SPARROW proposal.

Similarly, Criteo recently announced a collaboration with The Trade Desk to support Unified ID 2.0 — a future identity solution that gives consumers unprecedented control over their advertising experience with the ability to opt-in via a clear, personalized and transparent pathway. We have also seen companies like LiveRamp and Nielsen take part in these conversations. Solving these challenges requires innovative partnerships to truly promote change and develop a consumer-centric solution.

The future envisioned: Where adtech goes from here

Giving consumers more control over their data will, by definition, mean that less data will be available to adtech vendors. People will opt-in to those publishers and advertisers that they trust, and opt-out of those they don’t. As an industry, adtech must respect this and build solutions that support and enable the creation of compelling and interesting content.

There will be a percentage of consumers who will still want and enjoy personalized experiences. This will represent, however, a relative minority of people across the open internet, and almost certainly will represent the most valuable cohort for advertisers and publishers. Publishers will encourage users to opt-in through engaging content and other special access, while other publishers will erect paywalls. Regardless of how publishers encourage opt-ins, some percentage of the open internet will still be addressable on a one-to-one and consented basis.

The proposals currently at the W3C — Dovekey, TURTLEDOVE, SPARROW and others — can help address those consumers who opt-out, or don’t explicitly opt-in. Cohorts of consumers with similar interests in a specific topic or product can be shown advertisements that relate to that entire group, moving away using personal data for targeting.

Finally, adtech should look to 20 years ago, at the state of contextual advertising, which doesn’t use any consumer data and displays relevant ads based on a page’s content. According to a report by Business Wire, the global contextual advertising market is expected to grow to $279.2 billion by 2025. With more advanced machine learning and AI to overlay content with commerce data, contextual advertising can both perform well and also prove privacy friendly.

Adtech, government agencies and regulatory bodies are all working together to develop solutions that benefit everyone, rather than simply adding more restrictions or regulations in the name of privacy. United the industry can rebuild its fundamental revenue driver while also rebuilding and preserving consumers’ trust and privacy.

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