Jeff Green: ‘I think it’s a strategic mistake for Google to get rid of cookies in Q1 2024’

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The ad tech industry is on the precipice of a new era with the imminent retirement of third-party cookies within Google Chrome.

It’s a development that has obsessed the entire digital media industry for the last four years and has had some of the largest names in ad tech seeking alternatives for online ad targeting — the very lifeblood of their business.

Speaking with Digiday on the sidelines of the Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity 2023, Jeff Green, chief executive at the industry’s largest independent ad tech company, The Trade Desk, shared his thoughts.

Among the topics of discussion are: the rollout of his own company’s cookie-replacement Unified ID 2, relationships with the industry’s largest stakeholders, including publishers, and Google.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Digiday: You’ve made several recent announcements, can you talk us through why you think they’re significant?

One was the announcement that another CTV player Warner Bros. Discovery has adopted Unified ID 2.0 and just a reminder that while we created the technology, we open-sourced it.

The second was with EUID [and a number of different brands that were supporting it] which is not dissimilar to UID2, as it’s built on similar open-source technology but was created with a different space so that data can’t be shared between the U.S. and Europe.

That ensures that EU ID can grow up to be what I think will prove to be the most GDPR-compliant technology in market because a consumer can take their preferences with them. They’re essentially pinning their preferences to the most benign piece of PII, which is that email address.

There is some debate as to just how benign an email address is in terms of PII, what are your thoughts?

I don’t think there is that much debate about it. I think sometimes, there’s a desire to inject controversy, but I don’t think that that’s very controversial.

The reason why is that, first of all, Apple provides personalization using an email address. All the personalization in the Apple ecosystem is driven by the Apple ID which is an email-based identifier.

The personalization in Google is done through their SSO-personalization, in Facebook it is done from their login coupled with data science applied to the social graph.

So then you take the fact that UID2 has been adopted by companies like Salesforce and Snowflake and even implemented a class across Google Cloud and AWS, and companies like Disney which are extremely committed to consumer privacy. None of them would be using an email address if they felt it wasn’t a privacy-safe methodology.

The truth is an average consumer needs something to anchor their settings on. So I need some way to remember what you told me, including the opt-out, and if I can’t use a cookie — and cookies are not the best way to do it — there’s a much more persistent way to remember somebody’s settings. That has to be some piece of persistent identity so that it can transcend your devices.

I think for a brief time there were a few legacy publishers in print journalism that were saying they’d like the world to be different this time around. But what wasn’t universally understood, was that in order to get the highest CPMs, an advertiser has to bring their own data, you don’t necessarily know when they’re going to prune that data, and it creates some privacy risks.

That would create a greater asymmetry than exists today, in the other direction, as advertisers have a tremendous number of choices, and are saying, “Send me as much metadata as possible, so that I can understand what I am buying.”

Publishers that held out, especially from the [legacy] print world, haven’t benefited from the increased CPMs that are available to everyone else that is more committed to creating as much visibility into what they are selling. And because of the authenticated nature of CTV, that’s just put an amount of pressure on it.

Early on [in the history of UID2] a few legacy publishers were asking if they can do things differently. The way it’s evolved is that publishers are asking how they can implement as fast as possible.

If I were running Google, I think it’s a strategic mistake for Google to get rid of cookies in Q1 of 2024*. In part, because Google has a lot of pressure coming from two directions: one is the privacy issue, the other is the antitrust issue.

I believe that what Google has proposed to the ecosystem is that they retain a Ferrari and they give the rest of the world a bicycle.

Privacy Sandbox they are giving the open internet is a deprecated internet, especially as compared to what they provide, which I do think will be devastating to journalists. This is part of the reason, I believe that Gannett filed a lawsuit against Google. It cannot be overstated how significant a move that is.

It’s one thing for governments or the Texas Attorney General, or the EU to be going after them, but it’s another for a publisher that is extremely reliant on Google to file such a lawsuit and what a commentary that is on the state [of] things.

When I initially made my statement in 2020 that I didn’t think it was in Google’s best interest to get rid of cookies the privacy scrutiny was higher, and the antitrust scrutiny was lower, and that has reversed now.

Most of the scrutiny they’re receiving today is around antitrust violations for anti-competitive behaviors. And so, to offer the world a bicycle while they leverage assets (that many deem as monopolies) to protect their Ferrari, I think creates a greater risk for them than if they perpetuate the cookie.

*Since initial publication, a Google spokesperson has contacted Digiday to reiterate that it will depreciate third-party cookies for only 1% of Chrome users beginning Q1, 2024, as part of a staged program.

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