It’s no secret that consumers can be wary of companies seeking to collect their online personal data. They may worry about how the data will be used, who will have access to it, and if the data will be kept secure from fraudsters.
This lack of trust can be a headache for many different types of companies – such as ad tech companies – that rely on the data to deliver more personalized experiences. It may hinder them from cost-effectively and efficiently using more individualized information to reach their strategic and business goals.
Dave Pickles, CTO and co-founder of The Trade Desk, an ad technology platform, says that there are key ways, however, to still enable personalization while reassuring customers. Speaking at the Aerospike Digital Summit 2021, Pickles says those keys are:
- Keeping consumers better informed about how their information is being used
- Simplifying the message about how and when the data is used
- Providing better security
Pickles explains that as major browsers like Chrome and Safari begin phasing out third-party cookies because of consumer privacy concerns, new challenges have arisen about how to continue to target consumers effectively. He says his primary concern from this development is that more logins will be required to various websites, and that will lead to less specificity for advertising or marketing campaigns.
“The less precise you are with targeting, the more waste there is,” he says. “Then, to get the same result for the advertiser, the CPMs (cost per thousand impressions) are just going to come down. I think the inevitable reaction to that for a premium content producer is to put up a wall of some kind, at least for part of their content.”
That brings a bigger hurdle to Pickles’ mind: the future of the Internet.
“I don’t want to have to log in separately to every website. I don’t want every website to send me spam. That seems like a downgrade. It just seems like we’re breaking the whole Internet, in a way, in order to get this sort of extreme position on privacy,” he says.
Pickles says this dilemma led to the birth of Unified ID 2.0, a second version of Unified ID, an open-source sign-on solution. It’s an offshoot of Project Rearc, an industry collaboration to re-architect digital marketing that was introduced by the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB).
“What IAB has basically been saying is, ‘Hey, we’re so dependent on the browsers. The browsers control everything. Shouldn’t we have a solution that is separate from that? If we did that, could we actually do a better job of explaining how it works to the consumer?'” Pickles says.
Pickles says that he believes that the pressure on eliminating cookies is due to the fact that it’s a difficult concept to understand, much less explain, and it offers no control over the movement of data.
That’s why instead of focusing on trying to solve the cookie deprecation dilemma, Pickles says his company wanted to look at how the Internet should work. “It’s an upgrade that we’re using hashing and encryption to create better security,” he says. “It’s a way to make the Internet function better.”
Pickles says the “ironclad principles” of the solution are:
- Security and privacy. “We’re going to tell consumers what’s going to happen. We’re going to ask them if it’s okay. They’re going to have the right to vote. It’s going to be an honest conversation about the quid pro quo, the Internet. Content is not free. I need to monetize it somehow. How do you want me to do it? We’ll just go ahead and have that conversation,” he says. This is a marked difference from cookies, which make it difficult to offer transparency, choice, and control, he says.
- Open-source. “We wanted to make sure that we – nor anyone else – didn’t try to turn this into sort of a proprietary land grab, a way to lock down and tax the Internet,” he says. “By being open source, by creating interoperability, we’ve been able to bring a lot of people in to collaborate. If anyone tried to commercialize it, I think they would have run to their corners and built their own solutions or whatever. Then we wouldn’t have been able to create this kind of value for the consumer.”
- Independent governance. While ad-tech governance has been effective, Pickles says it’s clear that it needs to be improved. “This means a strict code of conduct. It means you’re going to be subject to audit most likely if you’re dealing with this data. I think it’s just a really good thing to make sure that we continue to do the right thing for consumers,” he says.
In addition, by eliminating the need to log in to every website and instead using one identification system, consumers can better control who gets their email address, clearly understand what’s happening to their data and make decisions about whether that data can be used or not, he says.
From the platform viewpoint, Pickles believes there will need to be a more layered approach to determining what consumers are doing online. Even consumers who do opt in for a Unified ID program are not going to do it on every website every time.
“There’s going to be this traffic that you now have to understand. In some other way, it’s very similar to what we’ve all done with probabilistic cross-device, where you’ve got a deterministic spine of data that lets you extrapolate into the rest of it. But we’ve all got a whole bunch of work to do to make this make sense for our customers,” he says.
The good news is that Pickles says there’s already a lot of support in the industry for Unified ID (UID) 2.0, and “fast progress” means that if cookies do vanish in 2022, a solution is ready. In addition, consumers are enthusiastic about understanding and controlling their data, he says.
Pickles says the other bit of good news is that UID 2.0 will eliminate cookie mapping for platform builders, which sucked up a lot of computing power. However, there is likely to be more complex commercial and regulatory rules around how and where consumer IDs are used.
“I think there’s going to be much more pressure on your Aerospike cluster to probably store more metadata, more versions of the same profile that are a little more separated,” he says. “You can’t just kind of pool it all together in a master profile and then separate it out later.”
Pickles says that his company believes it’s important to have a holistic view of advertising and marketing capabilities – across mobile, apps, billboards, television, subscription services – when making decisions about what appeals to the customer.
In addition, these decisions also have to take into account the trillions of diverse queries a day across the Internet, he says, which is why the company’s relationship with Aerospike for the last decade has been key.
“We have some unique challenges that we’ve had to overcome over the years. Aerospike’s been a huge part of that. We run some of the largest clusters in the world. It’s been just a great partnership, great communication, and a lot of collaboration,” he says.