Advertising Guest Columns
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Why more publishers need to be testing FLEDGE

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In six months, FLEDGE is expected to be available in Chrome, and in 18 months third-party cookies will be erased completely – so why are publishers delaying their experiments with this tech? Mateusz Rumiński of RTB House implores publishers to start testing now, before it’s too late…

It has been three years since Google first announced the deprecation of third-party cookies and began the development of the Google Privacy Sandbox, and specifically FLEDGE. The current deadline is set for the end of 2024, to allow the industry to better prepare for upcoming changes.

The reality, however, is that a lack of engagement in testing from the wider digital advertising industry is still a matter of concern. Warranted, our testing suggests that the number of users enabled for testing the Privacy Sandbox proposal has significantly increased compared to our initial round of results, published in October – the number of unique users added to interest groups by RTB House was almost 20 million in December compared to less than 1 million in August.

This, however, is still significantly lower than traditional cookie-based ad buying. Publishers are delaying their experiments, with many claiming they are too busy with business-as-usual, or that they were waiting for Google to provide a FLEDGE-based solution in Google Ad Manager before running auctions.

Considering the impending deprecation of third-party cookies, it’s surprising that 2023 is not filled with publishers testing FLEDGE. There is little time left for changes to be enacted smoothly, and given the growing risk to user trust over privacy, there cannot be further delay.

The importance of FLEDGE testing

FLEDGE was one of the most promising tools proposed as part of the Privacy Sandbox initiative launched in 2019, the hope being to find a replacement for third-party cookies that preserved user privacy. 

It assists marketers with remarketing and building custom audiences in a privacy centric way, removing the need to track individuals’ behaviour across different sites. This technology was created based on Google Chrome’s Turtledove proposal, although significant improvements were also provided by other members of the advertising industry, participating in forums, such as the W3C or Prebid.

Currently FLEDGE is in early browser testing and this requires active participation from members across the digital advertising ecosystem. It’s only by doing this that the industry can find the gaps and propose solutions to improve this proposal which is expected to be a base for digital advertising for years to come.

Testing is also critical to improve the impact of FLEDGE for businesses on all sides of the industry to rule out the risk of inauthentic results. Ultimately, finding these areas now will make it easier for developers and authorities to agree on a viable solution fitting both current and future privacy regulations. Sadly, if advertisers and publishers have to return to this phase once FLEDGE is fully operational, it’s going to be a much more complex task.

At RTB House we have been heavily invested in this testing process. We have successfully delivered almost 120 million FLEDGE-based ad impressions in January alone. Over 46% of all our performance advertisers have already delivered a FLEDGE-based impression. Unfortunately, supply-side adoption is still a significant blocker, especially on the SSP and ad server side. To date, only one SSP allows us to deliver FLEDGE impressions in line with its specification.  While a few others are trying to make it work, most of the other supply-side platforms have not chosen to join the trial so far, citing a number of business and technological concerns. This low adoption among SSPs is a serious and surprising concern, given that multi-SSP connection is technically allowed by the Chrome team.

Why does the industry need FLEDGE?

This lack of engagement may be because people don’t feel they need FLEDGE or that they believe other people will be doing that testing. Yet in approximately six months FLEDGE is expected to be generally available in Chrome, and in 18 months third-party cookies will be gone completely.

FLEDGE allows advertisers to understand user interests, enabling the delivery of more relevant adverts, rather than simply choosing them based on contextual targeting. The test aims to move the web platform closer to a state where the user’s browser, on their device – not the advertiser or ad tech platforms – holds information about what that person is interested in.

Without proper testing on the publisher side the industry is not going to be able to understand the full scope of FLEDGE. Additionally, the outcomes of tests may influence the timeline of third-party cookie deprecation; if tests prove that any adjustments are more extensive than currently expected, another delay may be announced, which could be detrimental to the efficiency of targeted advertising.

Looking ahead

Testing of FLEDGE really is just the first step in a long journey, but it’s an essential part of ensuring that the end result is personalisable, and privacy-centric. There are a number of essential features of FLEDGE that have never been tested externally, and will require adjustments after industry feedback.

Positive engagement from the advertising industry is essential, and the finger of blame cannot be pointed at Google, who have been actively working to involve the advertising industry in the trials. Despite the limited initial engagement, the Google team is still optimistic that more companies will begin testing. The reality is that the industry needs to engage to get the best out of FLEDGE or risk getting a product that doesn’t fulfil its potential. So if you haven’t engaged with the trials, now is the time to do so.

Mateusz Rumiński
Private Advertising Go To Market Lead, RTB House

RTB House is a global company that provides state-of-the-art marketing technologies for top brands and agencies worldwide. Its proprietary ad-buying engine is the first in the world to be powered entirely by Deep Learning algorithms, enabling advertisers to generate outstanding results and reach their goals at every stage of the funnel.