In a new blog post that made headlines in the industry, Google have made it abundantly clear on their position regarding email-based identifying solutions – it will not be happening under their watch.

In the wake of Google’s announcement that their Chrome browser will not be supporting third-party cookies by 2022 (following similar action already undertaken by Apple and Firefox), the industry was questioning the future direction of the technology used to deliver ads. Cookies have become a way of life in digital and are used to target users, to retarget the same users and then measure sales on site. As a result, the independent arm of the digital ecosystem corralled together to identify a replacement, with many backing unified ID’s – open-source networks built from hashed and encrypted email addresses that consumers will be able to see and control. Key players in this space include The Trade Desk and Liveramp. There was enough momentum behind this replacement that many speculated that Google themselves would support and collaborate in this space.

However, this week’s policy update from Google left no room for such speculation. David Temkin, Google’s director of product management, ads privacy and trust, made the company’s position clear in a blog post questioning the viability of Unified ID 2.0 in the Google ecosystem – “We will not build alternate identifiers to track individuals … nor will we use them in our products.”

This does not mean Google will not allow brands to use first-party data. Brands who have their own first-party relationships with their customers will still be able to use these across Google’s ecosystem, they will just not be allowed to use unified ID’s collected by other sources in this space.

The cynical side of the industry would suggest that this is simply another ploy for Google to strengthen their stranglehold on the industry – once again being the judge, jury, and executioner in this space. However, context needs to be applied before you can accurately make this assessment. As you can see in this diagram (below), only 13% (a mere $22bn!) comes from their display network through Google Ad Manager, AdSense and AdMob. Therefore, this move seems like it has come from a business that knows regulatory interjection in this space is inevitable if they go down the unified ID rabbit hole, and are desperate to avoid further competition regulation in the area that really drives their bottom line – paid search.

Google Revenue Breakdown FY

This new news further strengthens Google’s assertions that the future to a cookieless world lies in their privacy sandbox, a set of Application Programme Interfaces (API’s) that are built to replace cookies. Google hope this will become the gold standard for ad targeting, measurement and fraud protection. Early signs are really positive – a blog released by Google in January said that early tests to reach in-market and affinity Google Audiences indicate that advertisers can expect to see at least 95% of the conversions per dollar spent when compared to cookie-based advertising.

So what does this all mean?

Whilst the ramifications of this announcement are still to be felt, we believe that this move provides even more opportunity for media agencies to add value to client’s campaigns by honing in on what bought us to the table in the first place – the craft of media planning and the delivery of well-executed digital strategies.

For too long, there has been an overreliance on opaque third-party audiences built on vast cookie pools. It was not good for the consumers, who disliked the big brother nature of retargeting, nor was it good for agencies who defaulted to this option. Now is the opportunity for agencies to be inventive, to understand consumer journeys, and build smart strategies based on open, consented data that will reveal more about a brand’s audience than we ever knew. More time needs to be taken to identify the right data sets, to critique, to hypothesise, and to test. I think that everyone involved will be better for it – the web will still be open, consumers will be happier and brands will connect better with their customers as a result.

Dave Carpenter | Head of Digital