Targeting & Measurement FAQs: What’s next?

Posted on Thursday 01 September 2022 | IAB UK

Why are third-party cookies being phased out? And how should you be preparing? Get your head around the key questions in this space with our FAQs

1. Why is digital advertising shifting away from third-party identifiers? 

One of the reasons often given for phasing out third-party cookies and identifiers is the desire to create more privacy-conscious online environments. However, it’s important to understand that ‘privacy’ is a very subjective term. Fundamentally, the use of cookies (and any other similar device-based information or identifiers) or personal data must comply with data protection and ePrivacy legislation. 

While there is much talk of ‘the loss of cookies’, we at the IAB believe that our industry has a huge opportunity. By creating targeting and measurement solutions that are compliant with current data protection laws by design, rather than retrofitting pre-existing strategies to keep pace with changes in this space, we can create a more functional digital ecosystem that works for all parties - consumers, advertisers and media owners. Rather than focusing on the loss of third-party cookies, we’re urging the industry to focus on what we stand to gain by pioneering new ways to target and measure online. The challenge is how to develop alternative ways of targeting and measuring online ads that don’t undermine the economic viability of the ad-funded web - ensuring that our digital ecosystem remains ad-funded, diverse and open to all.


2. When is it happening? 

Apple’s Safari and Mozilla’s Firefox have already stopped using third-party cookies on their browsers. Google’s Chrome is the biggest web browser by far and, at the start of 2020, Google announced that it would deprecate third-party cookies on Chrome by the start of 2022. This timeline has recently been extended to 2024 - you can find more details here

On mobile, Apple changed its approach to its Identifier for Advertisers (IDFA) in 2021, making in-app tracking for advertising opt-in by default. Meanwhile, Google has launched a mobile-focused Privacy Sandbox at the start of 2022 to develop “new, more private advertising solutions” that “will limit sharing of user data with third parties and operate without cross-app identifiers, including advertising ID”. It describes this as “a multi-year initiative” and, when it launched, said that it plans “to support existing ads platform features for at least two years”.  


3. And it’s just third-party cookies that are being deprecated, not first-party? 

Yes, first-party cookies will continue to operate on all browsers. These are cookies that are placed by the site that a person is visiting and it will only operate while you’re on that site. First-party cookies help to inform the advertising that you see, as well as remembering things like your language preferences or - if you’re on a retail site - what’s been saved to your basket. Third-party cookies are set by a third-party company, rather than the website being visited. They are currently leveraged across the digital ecosystem to target audiences with advertising and measure performance of campaigns, among other functions. 


4. What are the alternative solutions that are available? 

There are many different solutions that are currently available or in development - you can see what is on offer across the industry from IAB UK members here. These fall into two broad groups: linked and unlinked audiences. Linked audiences describe targeting strategies where publisher and advertiser audiences can be directly linked using an identifier - either at a 1:1 level or an aggregate level. Options in this space include Privacy Sandox’s Topics, which focuses on linking advertisers with groups of people with shared interests, and UID 2.0 that establishes a 1:1 connection with an individual. 

At the other end of the spectrum, unlinked audiences relate to targeting strategies where there is no ability to directly link a publisher's audience to the advertiser’s audience, and so advertisers cannot identify users at an individual level. This approach centres on pure contextual solutions where an advertiser targets audiences based on the content they are consuming.


5. Is there a front-runner?

No, it’s not a competition where one solution will win and therefore be used by everyone. In this new era of digital, it’s highly unlikely that there will be a one-size-fits-all approach to fill the range of functions that third-party cookies currently deliver. Instead, there will be a spectrum of addressability across the web, with some environments where people are completely anonymous, others where they are completely addressable, and some where we have a mix of both. It’s crucial that publishers and marketers understand all of the solutions on offer and which ones will work best for them. 


6. What is the industry currently doing to prepare? 

We’re now in a position where a number of alternative targeting and measurement solutions are at the testing phase and our message to members and the wider industry is to get involved. Start by identifying your company’s targeting and measurement needs, before considering which solutions are relevant to you. It’s only by trialling the solutions available that you will be able to see how they function in the real world, what works and where more development is needed. Above all, you will need to ensure that how you’re using any solution is compliant with UK GDPR and the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations (PECR)


7. What is IAB UK’s role in all of this? 

Feedback from our members is that they don’t want to be told what to do, but would like to be equipped with the information they need to develop the right targeting and measurement strategy for them. We therefore won’t be endorsing any specific solutions as what works for one advertiser might not be right for another - it depends on your objectives and the user data available to you. However, by mapping out the types of solutions in the market and the key considerations for each one - as we do here - our goal is to provide advertisers and our members with the information they need to select the best options for them. Take a look at our directory of the solutions for a more detailed look at some of the products currently available, and how to find out more. We are also working with our members to facilitate their involvement in cross-industry working groups - primarily IAB Tech Lab’s Project Rearc and Google’s Privacy Sandbox.

Our main message is: use these resources to read up about what is on offer and then get trialling. Google has extended the third-party cookie deadline to give companies more breathing space to prepare for the shift. As our CEO Jon Mew says, use it wisely. 


8. What are regulators saying? 

In an Opinion published at the end of 2021, Elizabeth Denham, the then-Information Commissioner, said: “I am looking for solutions that eliminate intrusive online tracking and profiling practices, and give people meaningful choice over the use of their personal data. My office will not accept proposals based on underlying ad tech concepts that replicate or seek to maintain the status quo.” More here

Meanwhile, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has been investigating Google’s Privacy Sandbox (which is working to develop alternative targeting and measurement solutions for industry) to ensure that any solutions developed do not unfairly favour Google within the market. Read the latest on this here


9. Where should I start? 

If you haven't already got a strategy underway to evolve your targeting and measurement strategy, it’s essential that you’re investigating the options that might work for you. Start by reading our overview and looking at the directory of solutions. You can also find our Measurement Toolkit here, with plenty of advice on how to implement a measurement strategy that isn’t reliant on click-through rates. 

The next step is to start trialling the available solutions to see how they work in practice and feed back to developers. 


10. Where can I find other useful resources? 

Other sources that you might find useful include: 

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The Future of Targeting & Measurement

With third-party identifiers becoming increasingly obsolete, what options do advertisers have when it comes to targeting and measuring their online audiences? We explore what’s happened to date and guide you through the strategies available.

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