Media Planning & Buying Search Marketing

What to Expect from Google’s Rumored Third-Party Cookie-Killer

October 9, 2013

For years, the major players in online media have been seeking to improve the accuracy of their online tracking while at the same time aiming to solve user privacy-related issues. In the past month, Google in particular has seemingly taken some major steps toward meeting these objectives.

Here’s a brief overview of the developments:

  • On Sept. 17, USA Today sparked rumors of a Google-operated third-party “cookie-killer” product, informally called ‘Anonymous Identifier for Advertising’ (AdID*), which would enable advertisers to target logged-in users anonymously. This development has not yet been confirmed by Google.
  • Then, on Sept. 23, Google formally began blocking all organic keyword referral data from publishers, meaning that ‘Not Provided’ would become the new standard for all users – regardless of whether they are logged in to Google.
  • Finally, last week Google announced a brand new metric, ‘Estimated Total Conversions,’ that will give advertisers insight into the full impact of paid search across devices and channels.

In this post, we weigh in on the expected ramifications of the first development listed above— but also caveat that our POV is purely speculative pending further information from Google itself. To date, Google has not confirmed the USA Today report nor subsequent articles form other publications.

Why does Google want to innovate around how tracking works?

Third-party cookies have been one of the most relied-upon elements in user tracking since they provide advertisers with a broader range of data from which to target potential new customers. But due to privacy concerns, this system has been challenged in many ways. For example, Apple’s Safari browser already blocks third-party cookies by default. Plus, Google’s cookie-reliant model is not able to compete with Apple’s own AdID solution (IFA – Identifier for Advertisers) in its iDevices and with Facebook in its own ecosystem.

What is AdID and how will it affect the digital media landscape?

AdID, to be clear, is a rumored Google product that media outlets like USA Today and the New York Times have reported on during recent weeks. Google has made no formal announcement regarding a potential third-party “cookie-killer,” yet it has not denied the rumors either.

While it’s hard to know exactly what AdID will look like, absent of a confirmation and announcement from Google, we can make some educated guesses:

  • If it is in fact in the works, AdID will likely provide better tracking based on what Google knows about its users. It is probable that Google will use more than just cookie-level data to provide cross-device tracking. Sources may include a wide variety of data points from Google+ services logins to some unique device information. Google may be able to tie the real user characteristics to these unique device identifiers and use AdID to anonymize this information for advertising purposes.
  • The new tracking method will likely address some user privacy concerns through Google products. It’s anticipated that users will have more control over how they are being tracked and by whom. Google has already taken some steps on this topic by encrypting the natural search queries. But since this will be a brand-new product, Google will need to clearly define what it will use to create the AdIDs to ensure industry buy-in.
  • AdID could create a domino effect across the industry. Recent numbers show that 43 percent of Internet surfing is done via Chrome. Moreover, No. 2 player Mozilla could follow Google’s rumored decision to block all third-party cookies in Firefox by default, as the company has recently announced its involvement with Cookie Clearinghouse to define a better third-party cookie policy. This change could establish a new set of standards in the advertising industry and force all the big players to align on the same baseline rules as Google.

There remain many unknown factors pending a formal announcement from Google, so advertisers will want to follow this closely in the coming months. We look forward to learning more about this development as it unfolds into 2014.

*Update: Per a Sept. 19 article in MediaPost,  ‘Ad-ID’ will not be the name of Google’s product, should it be announced, as it’s already a registered trademark. “Based on everything we have seen, Google has only informally used the Ad-ID name for its “anonymous identifier for advertising” project,” said Ad-ID Chief Growth Officer Harold Geller.

Mike Dobbs, Group SEO Director at 360i, contributed to this report.

Cover photo via Digital Trends