How IAB Tech Lab aims to calm concerns around Google’s Privacy Sandbox 

Photograph of IAB Tech Lab's Anthony Katsur.

This article is part of a special Digiday editorial series to catch you up on the basics of Google’s phaseout of third-party cookies. More from the series →

Marketers are on the precipice of a new dawn as the biggest company in media prepares to pull the plug on third-party cookies, the cornerstone of the $600 billion online media business, in Google Chrome.  

While this is not exactly “news” and just about every company in the sector has spent the last four years trumpeting their diligent preparations, there’s a widespread (if muted) unease over levels of preparedness ahead of the official year-end 2024 deadline.   

With Privacy Sandbox, it’s entirely unclear who your counterparty is

Speaking with Digiday ahead of the IAB’s flagship Annual Leadership Meeting this week, Anthony Katsur, CEO of IAB Tech Lab, explained how the standards body intends to steward the sector through the trepidus year ahead.

IAB Tech Lab is preparing to publish its Privacy Sandbox analysis, a project involving input from more than 60 companies over several months, early next month with Katsur outlining some of the pain-points it hopes to address. 

“There are still a lot of constituents that don’t know how it works with open questions around what critical use cases the Privacy Sandbox supports,” he said. “Because when you think about it, it’s not just a replacement for cookies; what Google Chrome has built is effectively an SSP [supply-side platform] and an ad server into the browser.”

Lobby Google for better documentation

It’s a massive paradigm shift that has left many in the sector asking the most fundamental questions, namely, “Just how is it all supposed to work?”  

“The documentation has been challenging, to say the least; it’s kind of all over the place to figure out how any particular use case can be satisfied,” explained Katsur, adding that it is lobbying Google to clarify some key questions.  

“The challenge has been that the technical specifications are generally hard to follow, incomplete in places, and lack critical details concerning things like data limits, transmission guarantees, data-size limitations, latency, and how it’s going to perform?”   

Constituents in the sector need clarification over where to find such information with documentation over critical elements of Privacy Sandbox, such as Protected Audiences (formerly known as FLEDGE), TopicsAttribution Reporting, and Privacy State Tokens, seemingly challenging to find. 

“Some of the feedback we’re going to give Google is that the industry needs more complete documentation and less places to go for it,” added Katsur. “Right now, you have to go across the Sandbox Github repository, PrivacySandbox.com, DeveloperChrome.com; it’s all over the place.”

Meanwhile, such a seismic shift in the sector will require a reconstitution of the industry’s value chain, a realignment IAB Tech Lab aims to make clear to members over the coming months.

Related Insights

“Historically, there’s been clear party and counterparty relationships, right?” There’s a DSP which has a relationship with an SSP, and then the SSP has a relationship with the publisher,” explained Katsur, noting how companies need to understand how the ongoing paradigm shift will alter how they interface with the rest of the industry.

“Those relationships are governed by explicit contracts between DSP and SSP covering matters such as sequential liability and discrepancy thresholds and data rights, but with Privacy Sandbox, it’s unclear as to who the counterparty is.”

Per Katsur’s assessment, the fact that Privacy Sandbox essentially bundles an ad server and an SSP into the Google Chrome browser, parties need to reevaluate their liabilities. “People need to ask themselves, ‘Who am I contracting with?’ and that’s just entirely unclear to the industry!”

IAB’s ALM takes place January 28-30; Digiday will be reporting from the show floor.

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