Industry players have been murmuring about the eventual demise of the cookie – the so-called “cookie apocalypse” – since at least 2005, when consumers first began to demand a more private browsing experience.
Google’s initial experiment with alternative methods to serve its ads without cookies came in 2013, and Apple followed in 2017 with their Intelligent Tracking Prevention feature.
Now with the advent of data privacy regulations like the European General Data Privacy Regulation (GDPR) and the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), it’s clear the industry urgently needs a durable alternative to the transient nature of third-party cookies.
Without third-party cookies, media owners must find another way to provide relevant ad experiences, analytics and reporting associated with ad inventory – and even to collect regulatory consent signals. It’s a pivotal change to digital publishing as we know it.
Cookies pass data between web servers, browsers, and sites, and help tailor a consumer’s digital experience by collecting information on their browsing behavior.
But proliferating global data privacy regulations and the recent technology updates that remove the utility of cookies, such as Apple’s ITP, Firefox’s changes that block third-party cookies by default, and Google’s plan to introduce more stringent privacy controls to its Chrome browser – represent a fundamental shift in the way the internet works.
Combined with the increasing global data privacy regulations, media owners can no longer rely on third-party data to support ad inventory sales or meet the requirements of compliance.
Since GDPR’s introduction in May 2018, EU residents have become familiar with the various consent notices that pop up each time they access a new site. The regulation requires an explicit opt-in from consumers, allowing the collection and use of their data for a specific purpose.
Over in the US, public concern over data privacy and online tracking has led to a wave of new regulations, including California’s CCPA, due next month in January 2020, and Nevada’s privacy law that went into effect in October 2019.
While there are differences in whether a user needs to explicitly ‘opt in’ or be given the opportunity to ‘opt out’, all of these regulations include the requirement to provide transparency into how a user’s data is processed.
Despite these rising challenges around using cookies and their ephemeral nature, many media owners still rely on cookies to collect and store individual preferences.
Now imagine the user’s consent experience in a world without cookies. Each time a consumer visits a new site, or even just accesses it from a different device, they’ll get a pop-up and have to review and input their privacy preference all over again.
It’s easy to imagine the temporary nature of their decisions becoming frustrating to users. To offer a good user experience, media owners will need to implement a more durable and user-friendly, identity-based alternative.
Identity-based consent strategies tie preferences to an actual user’s identity, rather than just their cookies.
This pairing lets a user create an authenticated profile with their account information and preferences, which can be applied across all devices, giving them transparent control over the experiences they have from that publisher.
So as they switch from laptop to mobile app to TV, their account information can be managed and updated without the need for the media owner to request further consent.
With transparent control, consumers benefit from informed choice and minimal disruption to their content consumption experience, while also having the assurance that their privacy preferences are stored and respected.
In today’s mobile world, attaching consent to identity will also protect consumers based on their citizenship, no matter their current location.
Publishers currently draw a conclusion on the consent rights a consumer is entitled to by using IP address as a proxy for citizenship. When visiting other states or regions the IP address is an unreliable method to determine compliance.
Identity-based solutions allow for better understanding of who the user is and which legislation applies, ensuring that the right consent experience is delivered to the right user.
Media owners also benefit, as they create deeper relationships with their consumers – and can engage on preferences around content and advertising.
As the consumer profile builds around their explicit consent choices, the delivery of content and ads can be tailored to optimize the user experience. This direct relationship also levels the playing field between independent publishers and the likes of Facebook and Google, who sit on massive platforms of authenticated users.
Positive user experience will also streamline some of the more technical regulatory requirements ahead of CCPA.
Data subject access requests (DSARs) rely on the identity of an individual user who seeks to know more about their data history with a particular media owner.
By having an authenticated profile already in place, the user is able to more easily access where they have provided consent, where their data is being shared, and update these settings if needed.
The implementation of an identity-based consent strategy should be a priority for media owners wanting to prepare as the reliability of cookies becomes uncertain.
At a time when media owners are struggling to find innovative ways to monetize their content, this approach creates new opportunities to generate revenue, based on user identity and consent preferences.
When a user logs-in to a publisher site, with privacy decisions saved, the media owner knows exactly how that user wants them to engage and how the monetization potential can be maximized.
Consent must be considered a key part of user engagement and trust. If media owners continue to drive for deeper consumer relationships, they need to understand the individual user, their identity, their privacy preferences, and their preferred content experiences.
Not only will this approach reduce user friction and frustration at facing a series of “I accept” messages, it also ensures the protection of compliance for both users and publishers.
Ben Barokas is the CEO and Co-founder of Sourcepoint, where he is driving the next evolution of the internet – content compensation – providing publishers with solutions to foster a transparent value exchange with consumers. You can find him on twitter at @bnb.
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