What, if anything, comes after the cookie?

The cookie’s fall from grace has been nothing short of epic. Misused and abused, the cookie has carried the blame for the consumer privacy concerns that plague programmatic advertising to this day. While many have already declared it dead, it might serve us all to pause and acknowledge that, in truth, the cookie is far from obsolete. It’s likely that cookies will play a more peripheral role in digital advertising moving forward, but for now, they are still the fundamental backbone of the internet.

A moment of reckoning is upon the ecosystem: browsers, publishers, and advertisers actually have an opportunity to reset their working dynamics and collaborate in good faith to serve their shared stakeholder, the user, and offer them a more enjoyable and useful consumer experience. So, do we fight a war of attrition, looking for a substitute for the cookie? Or do we acknowledge that users deserve better, and try to find another, more modern and full-bodied solution to this conundrum?

It has to be about the user

Regardless of the path we choose today, it seems likely cookies will be superseded by something else in an effort to connect consumers across all devices. Whether that solution is yet another tag that contributes to slow-loading pages and more user data in the market remains to be seen.

A better option might be an industry consortium-backed solution that is committed to developing a new working paradigm that will deliver value and ROI for both the supply and demand sides — while keeping consumer engagement and satisfaction front and center. What might that look like? A consortium like DigiTrust is a good first step, and there are other players with strong offerings, as well.

We could look to browser providers and ask them to go one step further in recognizing the strength and power of mobile application Device IDs. By building them into the browser itself, there are several potential benefits:

  • Users gain more control over how their data are shared and used;
  • Page load times decrease due to the reduced number of tags;
  • The advertising ecosystem will be able to more consistently serve their target customers, thereby increasing ROI for advertisers on the subset of users who have explicitly opted in.

Forging ahead, with or (hopefully) without cookies

For the time being, however, as this potential remains unfulfilled, we must live with the truth that the cookie is not really dead; it remains a vital component of the backbone of the industry that keeps us all connected. Yes, cookies have been at the heart of “internet bloat,” burdening consumers with slow-loading web pages. Thankfully, consumers have appeared willing to accept limited latency and give up some convenience as an acceptable value exchange.

Consumers deserve better though, and ensuring that the value exchange is tipped in their favor should always be one of digital advertising’s guiding principles. We can change the future and give consumers control, privacy, fast-loading pages, and relevance — without sacrificing our own well-being. Advertisers can help drive this change by demanding that browsers ask users for permission. Demand that buying platforms adopt Digitrust or a similar solution.

We need to push the industry away from cookies and workarounds and toward permission-based, transparent solutions.

The ecosystem must deliver on the promises we make to users, and it’s incumbent upon us to invent the next paradigm of data-driven, programmatic advertising while keeping user experience and value at the forefront. Whether it is the cookie, an IDFA-type solution, or something entirely new that stitches together consumers’ omnichannel digital footprints in a coherent manner, consumers will expect to have a more engaging, relevant, and productive online experience. As long as our industry always makes this balance of interests their key priorities, I expect consumers will gladly come along for the ride.

Pieter de Zwart is chief technology officer at Eyeota

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