This month, Google announced plans to end third-party cookie tracking in Chrome by 2022—a move widely seen as ending the reign of the third-party cookie in marketing and advertising. What does the move mean for identity resolution?
Before answering that question directly, some perspective. Third-party cookies have been on their way out for a very long time (here’s a piece on “crumbling cookies” from 2005), and plenty of solution providers have had a Plan B in mind for nearly as long.
At the same time, Google won’t be flipping the switch on Chrome cookies until 2022. Two years amounts to eons from now in “digital time”—and over those two years, Google may well push out the go-dark date even further, or even walk back their decision entirely. (Significantly, Chrome’s own blog post refers to the two-year plan as an “intention.”)
But even so, Google’s announcement marks the moment we can mark a date on our calendar when cookies could go dark. What happens to identity resolution the day after?
To answer that question, it’s helpful to jump back to basics on how identity resolution works.
Identity resolution completes the view of an individual by taking identifiers we already associate with them, and matching those “known” identifiers to ones we haven’t yet encountered or properly logged. For instance, it might start with the email address of a customer in a marketer’s CRM, and then find other email addresses “out there” that belong to the same customer, or third-party cookies that track this particular individual. By connecting those knowns and unknowns, identity resolution fashions the person’s many identifiers into a more complete user profile (or people-based graph). (All of these identifiers are of course pseudonymized, or hashed.)
How much will the Chrome changes impact these practices? A lot depends on the kinds of data a given provider leans on to build its graphs. Most identity resolution companies examine data from sources including mobile device identifiers (in the form of mobile ad IDs), identifiers from connected TVs, email addresses; and, of course, web-based cookies. All of that data comes from a variety of first-party sources (like the company’s website or apps) and third-party sources available on open markets.
As a rule of thumb, the more your identity graph relies on third-party cookies, the more serious the death of third-party cookies could be. And the more you rely on brands’ own first-party data, the more insulated you’ll be from changes that impact third-party data practices—whether that’s browser changes or new regulation. Meanwhile, the more kinds of identifiers you incorporate into your graph, the more resilient your solution will be if one kind of data point goes away.
All of this means that Chrome ending third-party cookies will force a “reset” throughout the industry as cookie-based companies are forced to scramble to deploy new methods, pivot their business models, or close their doors entirely. But for providers that rely on third-party cookies less, and on first-party data more, the Chrome move could offer new opportunities for those companies and their clients alike.
For our part, MediaWallah fits into that latter category. Our identity graphs start by linking together users’ email accounts (since the average user has more than one email address)—not by relying on third-party cookies. We’ve made emails our key identifier largely because:
- Email is enduring. Email is an identifier that people hold on to for a very long time—often years or even decades—as opposed to cookies which deplete over 30-90 days.
- Email is readily permissioned. Whether it’s an email they use to log in to a retail site, a gaming app, or a publisher, email is an identifier that users actively volunteer (by providing it to the site) and can permission brands to use as they volunteer it. This makes email safer from a privacy and regulatory perspective than third-party cookies, which persistently track users in the background.
- There’s plenty of first-party email. All those aforementioned log-in emails are those brands’ and publishers’ first-party data. They own it—and so, as mentioned above, it’s far less subject to changing browser and regulatory rules.
And so while many in the industry will have reason for concern, we’re looking forward to the transformations the next two years will bring. With our complex graph that uses email as its key identifier, we won’t be negatively impacted by the “death of third-party cookies.” Equally important, we’re at the early stages of our new solutions that use marketers’ first-party data—without third-party cookies at all—to target customers on the open web. Expect more information about that in the not-so distant future.
None of this is to say that we don’t have our work cut out ahead in fully transitioning away from third-party cookies. We certainly do. But at the same time, we’re excited for this next phase of marketing data—and in working with all of our clients to embrace the changes to come.