‘They won’t enable our identifier’: Identity tech providers try to make sense of Google’s plan not to support alternate identifiers

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When Google told the world on March 3 it won’t allow ad targeting or tracking based on what it calls “alternate identifiers” in inventory it sells, the dominant digital ad company left ad industry watchers wondering whether it spelled doom for companies that offer identity technologies intended to replace third-party cookies.

It’s too early to know what the true impact will be, but it appears some identifiers just won’t work in some cases for advertisers programmatically buying ads using Google’s demand-side platform. Despite the potential fallout, identity tech providers are emphasizing the positive.

“We would agree that they [Google] won’t enable our identifier on the buy side,” said Travis Clinger, svp and head of addressability and ecosystem at LiveRamp. LiveRamp has been among the frontrunners in developing an identifier to replace the third-party cookie. The company has been pushing for publishers to get on board to accept its ID that advertisers and agencies pay a fee to receive onboarding and measurement in connection to their use of the ID.

Besides, while Google’s DSP has widespread adoption among advertisers, it is not the only DSP on the market. Clinger stressed that LiveRamp’s ID is accepted by other demand-side platforms including MediaMath. “We already have every other major DSPs transacting on identity link,” he said.

Although Clinger said Google won’t support LiveRamp’s identifier for open marketplace buys, he believes LiveRamp’s ID will still work when advertisers use Google’s Display and Video 360 DSP to buy publishers’ inventory through private marketplace deals, in part because publishers and audience buyers negotiate directly in a closed environment. However, it’s unclear if that will actually be the case.

LiveRamp is also holding out hope that Google’s ad exchange won’t be blocking its identifier altogether. Right now, Google does not support the company’s Authenticated Traffic Solution identifier technology, he said. However, Clinger pointed to a Wall Street Journal article that stated, “Companies that use parts of Google’s advertising infrastructure, such as its ad exchange, could potentially still sell ads that use their own unique identifiers.” That line suggests that, if LiveRamp can partner with Google’s ad exchange to pass its identifier to non-Google DSPs, “It enables another supply path for our publishers,” Clinger said.

Chins up, stock down
Indeed, identity providers are trying to spin Google’s announcement in a positive light, even as their stock prices turn south and a lack of information clouds the identity landscape. “As you can see from the momentum around Unified ID 2.0 from all corners of the advertising industry, there is significant industry focus on building a new identity solution that preserves the value of relevant advertising while protecting consumer privacy,“ said a spokesperson from The Trade Desk, LiveRamp’s primary identity competitor, in a statement.

The Trade Desk’s stock dropped 12% on Wednesday, while LiveRamp’s stock price fell by 8%.

Tech firms, agencies and brands and publishers all suggested they aren’t entirely clear on what Google will or will not allow regarding identifiers. “Whatever formula Google will want to use, that’s the line,” said Jason Hartley, head of search, social and shopping at digital agency PMG. “It makes it easier for us to place our bets.”

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Tom Kershaw, chief technology officer at ad tech firm Magnite and chairman of Prebid, which manages an open-source shared identifier, dismissed the notion that the Google news is bad for firms like LiveRamp and The Trade Desk. “None of this is true,” he said. He said that identity technologies are based on enabling personalized ads through anonymized data, which aligns with Google’s approach.

“The reason that people are so mesmerized by this release is it’s the first time [Google’s ad division] has said anything substantive in a year,” he said. He noted that Google’s decision to stop employing login data on the open web and instead use the audience cohort-based targeting methods it has put forth through its Chrome browser division was the real upshot; Google’s plan to use the same technology that it is forcing others in the industry to adopt gives the industry comfort, Kershaw said. “They should have addressed this a long time ago.”

Andrew Frank, vp and a distinguished analyst at research firm Gartner, said Google’s announcement puts pressure on marketers and publishers to evaluate the risks and benefits of cohort-based targeting compared to identifier-based tech. “Google’s affirmation of its intention to scrap user-level tracking and targeting across its ad products increases the tension between approaches like [The Trade Desk’s] Unified ID 2.0 based on consented matching of personal IDs and those based on cohort-level identification and targeting like the Privacy Sandbox,” he said.

PMG’s Hartley said the Google announcement means the agency will continue its diversified approach to how it manages advertiser client campaigns. “It’s not just looking at identity providers; it’s not just looking at a single ID. We’re looking at the whole picture.”

Seb Joseph contributed reporting to this story.

This article has been updated to reflect that Acxiom sold its marketing services to division to Interpublic Group in 2018 and rebranded as LiveRamp. It has also been changed to clarify that advertisers and agencies pay for onboarding and measurement in connection with using LiveRamp’s identifier, but not directly to use the identifier.

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