One ID To The Rule Them All: Attaining The Elusive Universal ID

By Aqilliz  


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Over time, the sophistication of the ever-growing digital economy has led to unprecedented convenience and ease for consumers. As shoppers traverse the internet, served by equal parts of relevant as well as irrelevant marketing messages, both product discovery and consumer discovery alike, has become easier than ever before. In the same vein, marketers now also have the arduous challenge of combing through 4.75 million data points across the globe, accounting for 59 percent of the world’s population now online.

In truth, the digital marketing ecosystem has been burdened by the perils of ubiquity. To navigate the growing number of people now part of the digital economy, marketers have a whole host of MarTech tools at their disposal. As of this year, there are now over 8,000 MarTech solutions, up by over 13 percent from last year. If we break it down, what we’ve also found is that data is the fastest-growing segment, seeing an over 25 percent increase from last year and innovations across the broader sub-category of ‘governance, compliance, and privacy’ increasing by 68 percent.

Naturally, such growth is to be expected. The emergence of significant regulatory frameworks such as the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation in 2018 have set a new standard for data governance, privacy, and protection requirements across the globe. Meanwhile, the industry has had to work around the looming presence of walled gardens—closed data silos operated by some of the world’s largest tech companies that millions of people around the world have now become ever more reliant on. With the gradual obsolescence of third-party cookies pushing the industry to its tipping point, such a confluence of factors has slowly set the stage for experimentation and innovation in new identity management models.

Today, we’re going to focus on one: universal IDs. What are they, why should you care, and what does that mean for you?

Tearing down the walls of walled gardens

With third-party data fast falling out of favour, walled gardens seemingly provide a promising alternative that will enable advertisers and marketers alike to better leverage ethically-obtained, first-party data points on their consumers. Offering a suite of services and products that require the voluntary disclosure of personal information, walled gardens are inherently logged-in environments thus eliminating the need for third-party cookies. Their hold is significant: according to the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority, 80 percent of all of the domestic digital ad spend goes directly to Google and Facebook.

While these platforms enable advertisers to run significantly targeted campaigns, they ultimately do not allow advertisers to see where the ads themselves appeared and impressions are only recorded if an ad is actually clicked on. This was a significant area of contention in the past year as it placed issues of brand safety at the fore. Simultaneously, walled gardens fail to offer the needed control and visibility required to ensure that beyond audience profile and targeting, that advertisers can optimise their marketing messages in real time, allowing each and every interaction to be hyper-relevant from the get go.

With no other long-term alternatives for brands and advertisers to consider for the time being, walled gardens seemingly have a hold on the industry, in spite of the inability to better measure performance metrics with greater transparency. For the industry to operate fairly, marketers clearly need more options.

A fairer ecosystem

To level the playing field, we need a universal ID—a means of better identifying consumers across a borderless digital landscape while being able to accurately and efficiently measure campaign performance in real time. Universal IDs function as user identifiers that help to identify users across the campaign supply chain without the need to sync cookies. Instead, universal IDs can be based on first-party data derived from customer relationship management (CRM) platforms as well as other forms of offline data, allowing IDs to be created based on deterministic matching.

That being said, recognising the need and actually implementing a solution to address it is another matter entirely. After all, this is the experimentation phase and so far, the industry is beginning to see a whole host of promising solutions on the market today.

So far, the IAB Tech Lab’s DigiTrust is the first universal ID solution created for the entirety of the industry. Backed by a consortium, DigiTrust lends the much-needed neutrality for an industry solution and to date, prominent supply-side platforms (SSPs), ad servers, and ad exchanges have already begun to leverage DigiTrust’s ID solution. Unfortunately, there are drawbacks. As DigiTrust’s unified ID relies predominantly on third-party cookies, it was blocked by Mozilla’s Firefox browser in 2019 and as of this past July, the initiative was officially shuttered.

Meanwhile, when Apple announced its iOS 14 software update, it effectively rendered its Identifier for Advertisers (IDFA) useless without eliminating it entirely. IDFA allows mobile marketers to attribute their ad spend across their mobile ad campaigns and now, with the recent iOS update this past June, Apple made the IDFA explicitly opt-in for every single app. This would then prompt a user permission dialogue to appear on one’s iPhone screen, confirming that you consent to being “track[ed] across apps and websites owned by other companies”. While a significantly powerful move towards ensuring that users have more of a say in how their personal information is used online, it has significantly thrown a wrench in the industry’s journey to establish a new universal ID standard.

Privacy first

It’s not all doom and gloom, though. Recently, the IAB Tech Lab officially garnered support from 16 adtech firms and agencies—including Aqilliz—for its Project Rearc initiative, which looks to establish a coalition of industry stakeholders to develop privacy-preserving audience identification and targeting solutions. This universal login or ID would ensure that consumers remain in control of their own data while being sufficiently encrypted.

At Aqilliz, we’re similarly driven by this need to develop cutting-edge approaches to the targeted discovery of new consumers across the open web, looking beyond the peripheries of today’s walled gardens. By recognising the fundamentally open, decentralised nature of the internet, we can look to establish compliant identity management and data monetisation models in a secure, unified environment.

If we zoom out, Project Rearc points to the core of the issue at hand—beyond the absence of holistic solutions, there’s also the absence of consistent industry standards, grounded in privacy-by-design. As we look to the future, it’s clear that universal IDs will play a significant role in shaping the digital marketing ecosystem as we know it. With only a little over a year left until third-party cookies are truly gone for good, it’ll be months of trial and error as the industry waits with bated breath for what’s to come.

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