How privacy concerns could shape the cookieless future

New legislation and growing consumer awareness will impact what targeting data is available and how it is used.
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The reality of what a cookieless future might look like for Canadian marketers and advertisers is inching closer as Google plans to phase out third-party cookies in 2023. This coupled with updated privacy legislation that’s expected to be introduced by the federal government this spring could mean the granularity of available targeting data is impacted.

There’s been an increase in consumer privacy awareness in recent years, and new research released earlier this month by the Global Data & Marketing Alliance found that the majority of global consumers (82%) are prepared to engage with the data economy, especially if there is a clear benefit in doing so. The same report found that almost half of Canadians feel more comfortable with the idea of exchanging data with businesses, but 74% are still “very concerned” about privacy.

As we head into an era of building a more private web, industry experts tell MiC that consumer privacy and targeting can both be maintained.

“We’re confident the ad tech ecosystem will rally around cookieless alternatives and find ways for advertisers to continue to measure and target campaigns effectively,” says Justin Shelby, director of product marketing at Sharethrough, which is using AI technology to bridge the gap created by the end of cookies. “Google cookie-killing will inevitably shake the industry, however, it’s important to note that Safari and Firefox have already implemented measures against cross-site tracking, which represents a sizable piece of the addressable web.”

Adaptability is what’s going to be key as the industry moves into a cookieless world. Andrew Tziatis, VP audience strategy for GroupM services, says targeting will still be possible and privacy compliant in the future. “Just how relevant future advertising will be based on a user’s known or predicted interest and how many of those consumers that can be targeted will require final legislative approval and alignment on final industry solutions,” he explains.

Tziatis suggests that marketers and agencies stay informed, and be supportive of privacy-first solutions that help create a more responsible advertising ecosystem. Additionally, he says they should continue to work with identity partners to ensure industry and client perspective is considered on all future cookieless solutions. He adds that marketers and agencies need to use a consumer-facing lens to understand, test, and implement cookieless opportunities, and be aware of ethical risks and the true impact on the end-user.

Still, the death of third-party cookies and changes to Canadian privacy legislation will have a “major impact” on the availability of consumer data that most digital advertising campaigns are built on today. Laura Main, managing director of Canada for Quantcast says, as a result, brands will have to rely on first-party data fueled by consumer consent. “A privacy-first approach will require marketers to embrace the opportunities offered by first-party data, as well as cohorts, contextual, and more,” she says.

Christy MacLeod, VP, data and technology at Kinesso, agrees and says that targeting will always be possible, but to what extent or granularity is what the privacy changes could impact. When new legislation comes into effect,  she says the hope is that it will focus on ensuring Canadians have a choice in data targeting. Additionally, she expects there will be mandates to ensure each company or platform aligns with the changes to continue functioning in the new digital ecosystem.

 “As the cookie drops, we are left with two types of targeting: categorical (topical) targeting and targeting using consented hashed emails, device IDs, IPs, etc. Some might say that categorical target is safer and more privacy compliant, as the latter option is much closer and more stable to individuals than the cookie,” MacLeod says, “In either case, targeting needs to be open to individuals stating their opinion or altering consent on any targeting being done. This is an integral part of giving the power of consent back to the consumer rather than the company, platform, or advertiser.”

She says advertisers who want to continue to message their customers directly will need to move to an infrastructure that allows for a customer 360 view and strong consent management to allow them to speak to customers in a safe environment managed with privacy and consent controls in mind. “While privacy changes can often paralyze clients and their legal teams, the way through is to ensure that each customer has the rights to their consent, and this is openly given to them and updated frequently.”

Others like Simon Ross, VP of digital activation at Horizon Media, say the industry has become lazy and overly reliant on the cookie.

“We have to start relying on first-party data to replace second and third-party data to help us more accurately target and measure our known and existing customers – and we have to start prioritizing contextual placements and broader targeting over second and third-party data sources and data targeting segments as a result. Client reputations as well as the media industry’s at large is on the line if privacy isn’t respected. A cookieless world is the gateway to better and more empathetic media planning,” he says.