The following is a guest post from Nicolas Rieul, chief strategy and marketing officer of mobile ad-tech company S4M.
Could Apple's Identifier for Advertisers (IDFA), invented in 2012 then followed by Google's Android and Microsoft Windows Phone, become the basis for a post-GDPR unified tracking standard that saves ad-tech?
Currently, 98% of smartphone users worldwide have a unique advertising ID. Android, iOS and Windows Phone collectively have the in-app footprint to serve as the basis for expanding unified consumer tracking to include mobile browsing and desktop as well. If these three tech giants would agree to extend their existing mobile advertising IDs to encompass web browsers and create a similar mechanism for desktop, they could establish a sustainable, post-cookie "new world order" that prioritizes consumer privacy while still allowing advertisers to pursue peak monetization. This would break down the silos between apps and web or desktop browsing, an elusive industry goal.
Easier user privacy control
With a higher level of collaboration, the current technology could enable a cohesive ecosystem that lets consumers go beyond the currently fragmented control of their data. User IDs could be applied to stitch together consumer consent control across smart TVs and desktop as well as smartphones and tablets, both app-based and web. Users would also be able to grant consent with a higher level of granularity on a platform-by-platform basis.
This brings us back to Apple. Remember at the beginning of this decade when Apple pulled the rug out from advertisers by not letting them use iPhone Unique Device Identifiers (UDID), the precursor to the IDFA, for consumer tracking? Apple has been nothing if not consistent over the years when it comes to prioritizing consumer privacy over the desires of marketers. When Apple gave up its ambitions for the iAd mobile ad network in 2016, its commitment to protecting consumers was further deepened as a major pillar of its corporate philosophy.
When Apple disallowed consumer tracking, many industry experts bemoaned the decision because of the practical elegance of the IDFA. Unlike the cookie, which was originally not designed for advertising purposes and became a technological hack by marketers, the Apple IDFA was initially crafted by engineers in Cupertino, California, for digital marketing purposes.
The IDFA links all of the user's applications for advertising purposes only and promotes a more privacy-oriented version of consumer tracking than the vulnerable cookie-based system.
So far, two of the major internet browser companies, Apple and Mozilla, have reduced support for cookie-based tracking on their Safari (Apple's Intelligent Tracking Prevention, ITP) and Firefox (Enhanced Tracking Protection, ETP) browsers, respectively. Meanwhile, Google recently revealed its own intentions regarding its market-leading Chrome browser, the impact of which remains to be seen. In any case, the drumbeat for increased governmental regulation gets louder.
Benefit to the walled gardens
The walled gardens' dominant stranglehold on the programmatic marketplace has not come without a cost. They have been assailed by a relentless stream of bad press for an array of issues including their often heavy-handed, monopolistic practices. While they aren't too big to ever fail, it's in their best interest to turn around the negative narratives that have dogged them recently.
For Google, the crafting of an advertising ID that unifies apps with mobile web along with a similar mechanism on desktop would go a long way in resisting any future antitrust forces. In this manner, Google would gain a big PR win and not relinquish its dominant hold on market share while avoiding antitrust headaches.
As for Apple, CEO Tim Cook has the opportunity to have his cake and eat it too. Without veering away from his brand's unshakeable devotion to user privacy, he can step to the fore as one of the guys that saved ad-tech and made the marketplace more efficient, safe and remunerative. Not a bad legacy, if you ask me.
These actions could set the stage for a group like the IAB Tech Lab and its Digitrust initiative to push the notion and reality of a universal advertising ID forward, ultimately leading to the creation of a neutral, nonprofit-supported product that's not reliant on the cooperation of a powerful commercial player. This level of unprecedented collaboration could breathe new life into ad-tech and benefit all players, including the walled gardens.