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A mission to keep the internet free and open for all

With the upcoming privacy-focused changes to digital advertising creating an opportunity to approach things differently, Dan O’Connor, sales director, Southeast Asia at Quantcast, urges the industry to do this by keeping the internet free and open.

Privacy, third-party cookies, and identity are undoubtedly the three most discussed topics in ad tech today. And rightly so. Soon enough, these terms will take on an entirely new meaning. Creating a long-term, privacy-first, cookieless identity solution is key to keeping the internet free and open for all. And here is why.

How 'private' are browsing experiences today?

In 2022, Google intends to sunset third-party cookies from its popular Chrome browser, prompting many marketers, agencies, and tech providers to innovate quickly to identify the best way to navigate a cookieless world, in a privacy-first manner. Alternative forms of identity are being explored to allow consumers to continue to enjoy the online content they have come to rely on while experiencing personalised advertising – the very thing that funds the free and open internet.

And whilst there is a concern across the industry, it is worth noting that cookieless browsing is not new. Both Safari and Firefox eliminated third-party cookies some time ago, and these browsers account for around 25% of browser usage globally.We have been testing our own privacy-first identity solutions in the Safari environment, as a great simulation of what the future might look like.

But how private is the average internet user’s daily activity on the web? Every day, tech companies are analysing thousands (if not millions) of data signals specific to the individual browser, looking at data such as:

● Internet browser search history

● Video consumption habits and interests

● App downloads on all devices

● Voice requests made in your home through smart speakers or virtual assistant AI technology

● Location-based data you permit

● Your health status, through smartwatch devices

● Purchases and everyday spending

● Product and content preferences, based on what you peruse and read.

While recent news indicates a shift away from identifiers to track users across the web once third-party cookies are eradicated, the vast majority of data – some quite personal – is already held in place by walled gardens, and those walls are only going to get higher.

Almost 70% of all digital advertising spend globally goes to a handful of companies. Taking that literally, brands would have to assume that consumers spend 70% of their time on this handful of platforms with only 30% enjoying content on the open internet, which is not the case. Meanwhile, the rest of the industry is collectively working towards a solution to level the playing field for that remaining 30%.

To maintain the variety and diversity of online content, it is crucial that the future of advertising is not controlled by a handful of players. It is also paramount for advertisers to be able to continue reaching the right audiences at the right time, and for consumers to be able to access the information they need to make purchasing decisions, without compromising their privacy.

Democratised advertising with a privacy-first approach

For the advertising world to continue to thrive in a fair, open, and democratised internet, we must find ways to continue operating successfully in a cookieless environment and, most importantly, do it in a consent-first, privacy-first manner.

But one key challenge is that the average user doesn’t realise that the internet isn’t actually free.

The internet is primarily funded by advertising, but unlike the data signals listed above, there isn’t a clear value exchange between users and that “free content” they get to enjoy. With advertising dollars controlled by a select few, publisher revenue is likely to diminish quickly in favour of larger companies. We’ve already seen subscription-based models creep in to help fund content creation and journalism, and while this may work for major publishers, where will it leave the mid-and long-tail publishers and consumers that cannot afford paywalls? If we are not careful, websites and apps that we rely on for news and information will soon come at an even higher cost or disappear altogether.

We believe the industry must come together and produce new identity solutions and continue to educate consumers on their data rights. We, along with many others, actively participate in cross-industry initiatives such as the IAB Tech Lab’s Project Rearc and the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C).

For an equitable internet

The issues that come with the changes we’re seeing with privacy, consent, and identity concern every internet user on the planet. The decisions we make today to keep the internet free and open will impact how consumers use the web in future and as an industry, we believe it is the way to building long-lasting solutions that consumers trust.

Respecting consumer privacy, while delivering on the outcomes that brands, agencies, and publishers want is key to keeping the internet free and open. I believe that technological innovation, interoperability, contributing to industry standards, and collaborating with customers are all essential to building sustainable solutions. Together, we are powering a free and open internet for everyone.

Dan O’Connor is sales director, Southeast Asia at Quantcast.

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