Advertising Digital Publishing
8 mins read

The ending of third-party cookies: Advances in ad tech

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

This article is an extract from our free-to-download report, Which Way Now? Publisher Options For The Ending Of Third-Party Cookies

Developments in first-party IDs

For those publishers who have a more structured plan in place, first-party IDs certainly show promise. As the Teads survey highlights, nearly half of publishers are considering first-party data and universal IDs (28% and 22% respectively). Of those, nearly half (47%) will opt for logins compatible with either LiveRamp’s IdentityLink or The Trade Desk’s Unified ID 2.0. Although this already demonstrates an industry preference, the remaining 53% is still fragmented across other ID solutions.

Even though the cookieless future might seem a long way off, industry progress has been slow. For publishers still relying on third-party cookies, two years is a short space of time to transform their entire ad revenue model. So now is the time to put plans into action. 

As Adform’s latest study concludes, despite three-quarters of companies globally (75%) acknowledging that the deprecation of the cookie will impact their business, over three-quarters of marketers (78%) have no tested solution in place – and only 3 in 10 (29%) globally have adopted a first-party ID solution. In Europe, however, publisher adoption of first-party IDs is nearing third-party cookie volumes. 

Adform says the introduction of its ID solution is already generating significant results. In fact, the percentage of publishers passing first-party IDs in the bidstream (according to Adform’s largest domains that represent 80% of total ad spend with the company) is 100% in Denmark, followed closely by 93% in the UK, 90% in Spain, and remaining well above 60% in other European countries. In the US, it’s a different story, with the number below 20%. 

While over two-thirds of large publishers (68%) are passing first-party IDs, these are mostly on smaller proportions of their traffic (primarily authenticated users), bringing the overall volume down. 

European traffic comprises predominantly random IDs and first-party cookies, whereas most US traffic comes from authenticated IDs such as LiveRamp or BritePool.

While authenticated IDs can carry more data, they don’t scale as well as first-party cookies – Bak estimates that only 5% of the internet happens behind logins – and so they don’t provide functionality such as frequency capping, profiling, reporting, etc. However, publishers seem hesitant to use logins in any case, with the Teads survey highlighting that almost two-thirds (65%) are not planning to increase their use of logins to specifically deal with third-party cookie deprecation, due to potential disruption of user experience, and impact on traffic.

Bak continues, “We expect first-party IDs to overtake third-party cookies this year … while publishers have proved they are ready, we now need the buy-side to ramp up adoption, and we’re calling on CMOs to lead the charge. With the impressive scale now made available by publishers, it is time for brands to start benefiting on Safari and Mozilla while gaining important learnings on how to use first-party publisher IDs instead of third-party data. This is not a straightforward substitution that can wait until the last minute.”

Customer Data Platform, BlueConic – which has just launched a tool to assess organizational readiness for a future of first-party data – also recommends that publishers focus on their first-party data above other ID solutions. BlueConic’s COO, Cory Munchbach, says that many publishers are overwhelmed; stuck in a situation that is “becoming more confusing thanks to the multitude of vendors proposing alternative solutions that supposedly address the fallout from the demise of the third-party cookie”. Munchbach also warns that many of these solutions “are merely third-party cookies in another ID’s clothing. To future-proof revenue and customer trust, companies need to take back control of their data and build closer connections with their customers using first-party assets.”

However, a single publisher’s first-party data is not normally enough to replace the functionality of cookie tracking (unless the dataset is very large). Marketers want to know how audiences react to other brands. For example, although they may be confident that a consumer who makes a purchase from a particular brand is likely to be interested in other products by that brand, a missing element could be that the consumer enjoys home improvement, so is open to seeing other DIY-based products. Therefore, data on how a user interacts with a brand is a valuable part of predicting their purchase patterns.

With DMPs enriching first-party data and augmenting ad performance, the next step is for publishers, especially larger enterprises, to use their first-party IDs to collect data and profile users, making these available on DMPs.

Meanwhile, The Ozone Project, owned and operated by a cohort of UK news publishers, has built an advertising and audience platform to provide an editorially-governed, GDPR-compliant “safe haven” for premium websites. 

The platform claims to offer turnkey access to ad partners, while boosting ad partner match-rate, providing log-level transparency (showing winning and losing bids), and scaling pricing according to the volume of ad requests. Comscore data from December 2020 shows Ozone’s network reached over 99% of adults that month, boasting 2.5m unique visitors more than Amazon, 1.8m more than Facebook, and 66,000 more than Google.

Ozone’s CTO, Scott Switzer, says that the platform “uses a combination of first-party data, a cross-device map, and verified data to create an identity graph across publishers. This graph will continue to function when third-party data is blocked by default in Chrome. Furthermore, Ozone has a transparent attribution framework where publishers are compensated for the data they provide to our audience graph.”

ID resolution platforms, which read and match different IDs to build an identity graph, such as’s, are rapidly gaining a foothold in the industry this year. As a cross-device solution, believes their platform is more tenable than trying to force ID consolidation on the industry. 

As Cross explains, “A number of identity resolution services are pushing the entire ecosystem to operate in their ID space, and have been doing so for several years. The Trade Desk, LiveRamp, ID5 and others have all recently played with open identifiers being “given” to the publisher community and other players in ad tech, but these are not new themes. One only has to go back as far as 2018 to know how identifier consolidation turned out for the folks using the AppNexus ID in its 2017-2018 incarnation. With the loss of third-party cookies entirely, the industry has an opportunity to not make the same mistakes again. If we all operate in every first-party cookie space simultaneously, we don’t need to have the same identifier. We just need a way to read each other’s respective identifiers.”

Cross continues, “instead of forcing the industry to adopt our language, we give our customers the tools to operate in their own language and get the benefit of understanding everyone else’s at the same time. I think this is the way forward for our industry. We are not in the business of hoarding personal data and spying on our users. We are in the business of learning about their interests and serving ads that might match them for our partners while respecting privacy all the way.”

Of course, data partnerships give marketers valuable data from which they can form insights about consumer behavior patterns. But privacy and security are key: data outside a publisher’s ecosystem must be truly anonymized. This can be done by methods such as tokenization, where information such as an account number can be transformed into a random string of characters. This way, sensitive data never leaves the brand, but can still be shared with others for insights.

ID-based solutions certainly seem to be where a sizable proportion of the industry is heading, but, of course, they aren’t the whole picture.

Changes to contextual

As we have seen, in addition to ID solutions and FLoC, over a quarter (27%) of publishers are considering contextual as an alternative to third-party cookies. 

Display ad company, Criteo, for instance, has built its own contextual advertising product that uses AI to merge content classification with first-party transaction data to better connect consumer purchases with the content they consume. 

One area in which contextual finds its strength is video. Online video platform and monetization tool, Connatix, uses natural language processing and computer vision to automatically analyze a publisher’s videos. The platform indexes videos and generates contextual metadata, on which buyers can target ads. In an interview with VideoWeek, David Kashak, Connatix’s CEO and Co-founder, said he believes it is not simply the loss of cookies that is driving interest in contextual – it is also performance. “We’ve been running post-campaign analysis for a lot of companies who have been using contextual targeting, and we’re seeing an uplift in metrics like brand recognition, completion rate, click-through rate and so on.”

Smart (AdServer) recently acquired fellow French ad tech firm, DynAdmic, which focuses on contextual in video and CTV. Smart believes this will strengthen cookie-free targeting within its own DSP, and has also partnered with ID5 to incorporate Universal ID into their offering.

Meanwhile, media giant, Verizon Media, is also making waves in contextual, building a suite of solutions aimed at supercharging contextual using AI. Part of its ID-free targeted ad solution – Next-Gen Audiences – boasts audiences created from machine learning models built on Verizon’s extensive first-party data signals. Enriched by contextual and real-time signals, publishers can use the tool to leverage existing audience data, coupled with predictive audience signals, to improve campaign accuracy and performance.

In summary, publishers are likely to continue to use contextual primarily to enhance behavioral first-party data, especially through the use of AI, rather than as a standalone solution.

Evolving edge computing 

Edge computing is definitely an option for those wanting to steer clear of privacy aspersions, although there is little evidence to support any rapid uptake in the publishing industry – significantly, it wasn’t included as a contender in the Teads survey. However, with ID solutions yet to be legally tested against legislation such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) – and the increasing deprecation of advertising IDs in GAFA (Google, Apple, Facebook, and Amazon) platforms – edge computing may increase its foothold quicker than we might expect.

Google has recently hinted that the industry must prepare for an ecosystem where persistent third-party IDs are not acceptable. Google Ad’s VP and GM Jerry Dischler, perhaps unsurprisingly, says “third-party cookies and other proposed identifiers that some in the industry are advocating for, do not meet the rising expectations that consumers have when it comes to privacy. They will not stand up to rapidly evolving regulatory restrictions.”

As Fosci agrees, “anything involving exchanges of personal data from one legal entity to another is not compliant or sustainable. In contrast, decentralized solutions that leave personal data on the device whilst building anonymous cohorts are more viable. 

In conclusion, edge computing may end up becoming the best solution for certain audiences, for example, on Apple devices, but this will take time to materialize.

Hazel Broadley
Author, Which Way Now? Publisher Options For The Ending Of Third-Party Cookies

This article is an extract from our free-to-download report, Which Way Now? Publisher Options For The Ending Of Third-Party Cookies