Ahead of Programmatic I/O 2021 later this month, we sat down with IPONWEB CEO and co-founder, Dr. Boris Mouzykantskii, for a sneak peek of the topics he’ll cover in a panel on Ad Tech’s Cookieless Future – Is It Bright or Bleak?, which he’ll share with the CEOs from Criteo and Matterkind on October 25th. 

Here’s an early-bird Q&A with Boris covering some of his thoughts on identity and the crumbling cookie heading into Programmatic I/O 2021.

How did the third-party cookie become the de-facto standard for identity in the first place?

In the very early days of RTB, Google AdX was leading the way with the use of cookies in programmatic, effectively defining the standard RTB protocol. Back then, RTB requests included SSP data (such as user interest categories and content categories of the page) as well as an AdX cookie.

The idea was that you needed to sync your retargeting pool with the AdX cookie, then use the list of AdX cookies to bid. I remember asking Google engineers why this process was so complicated and required an entire “user store” infrastructure on the bidder side. Was it not possible to pass them data and trust them to pass it back to us so we could bid without doing syncing or storing?

Years later, of course, this is roughly the direction that we are now headed with Google’s Privacy Sandbox. The idea has only resurfaced after the industry has invested billions of dollars building our ecosystem on the third-party cookie infrastructure, but hindsight is a wonderful thing!

Was the writing always on the wall that the third-party would go away eventually?

If the writing were on the wall, I certainly didn’t see it myself until Apple began making changes to user tracking. Even then, I remember being unsure about Apple’s plan to eliminate cookies but keep IDFAs. Now, of course, they’ve deprecated both — and I think that says a lot about how focused the industry is on this topic right now.

Whether this course of action is the best thing for the programmatic ecosystem, or even the consumer, in the long-term? That remains to be seen.

Do you think the impending changes will alter the power dynamics we see today in programmatic?

Without question, yes. The changes to identity will shift power back towards the walled gardens and, in a more general sense, the larger well-scaled players. This is the reason we’re seeing so many collaborative initiatives across the industry right now, including the huge effort that’s going into identity resolution solutions.

Only by working together can smaller programmatic players maintain a foothold alongside the big fish in the pond, which will be critical to ensuring the ad tech ecosystem remains open and diverse.

What roles do you think the different parties (brands, agencies, ad tech, media owners) should each play in finding scalable and workable alternatives before the third-party cookie finally goes away?

The way RTB works today, the cookie (and identity more generally) is at the very core of the business logic. To make an impact, you need to be large in scale and have a large footprint to bring to bear. Smaller and more niche players will either need to rely on the footprint of larger – and sometimes competitive – players to power their own businesses, which is not ideal, or work together to find common solutions to help them collectively amass the scale required to keep buyers and sellers happy.

As for the 2023 cookie deprecation, in all honesty I am not certain that the industry will be able to solve this issue with a single solution before the deadline arrives. For that reason, programmatic players need to use every moment between now and then to develop, test, and agree upon which ID solutions work for everyone.