Unified Cookies: Why unified 2.0 faces challenges in replacing cookies

By Roy Shkedi, Intent IQ’s Chairman

Little do most internet users know that when they sign onto a website and click on the “Accept cookies” option, they are part of the massive internet advertising ecosystem in which companies target ads to relevant users. While cookies have been an inherent part of the advertising ecosystem for the past 20 years, certain types, specifically third-party cookies, have come under fire recently for invasion of individual privacy. It seems that cookies are on their way out.

But they can’t just go and leave a void in the entire advertising ecosystem. Google has already come up with its Privacy Sandbox initiative, meant to be an alternative for cookies that tries to balance the need for user privacy and keeping the big players happy.

Unified 2.0 is yet another solution that’s being put forth to replace cookies. The idea is to maintain the essential value exchange of relevant ads while upgrading consumer controls. The way it proposes to do this is to use anonymous email addresses for consumers, which can be gathered from users logging onto websites or apps to create a new unified identifier.

Consumers, of course, will be asked if they agree to this and will also be allowed to set their preferences regarding how their data is shared. The idea is to put power in the hands of consumers without withholding the data that the advertising industry desperately needs. Unified 2.0 will also add a measure of convenience: When consumers log in through a partner that’s connected with Unified 2.0, they can be automatically logged into any site that’s part of the network.

What Unified 2.0 Needs to be Successful

The reason cookies have been so successful for 20 years is because everyone in the advertising industry used them. They were the industry-standard. For Unified 2.0 to be successful, it also needs to become the industry-standard. The major players must buy into it — otherwise, it will be rendered ineffective.

While many big players have expressed support for Unified 2.0, Google has not. Quite the opposite, in fact. While Google didn’t name Unified 2.0, in a recent blog post, David Temkin, Director of Product Management, Ads Privacy and Trust wrote, “we’re making explicit that once third-party cookies are phased out, we will not build alternate identifiers to track individuals as they browse across the web, nor will we use them in our products.” If Google isn’t on board, that’s already a major blow to the movement.

The other factor for success is the audience. Will consumers agree to have their email used as a sort of tracking device for ad targeting, even if that email is anonymous? Since the principle of Unified 2.0 is that consumers will be given a high level of choice, will enough choose to opt in?

Unified 2.0’s Historical Predecessor

To answer this, we’d like to look back at the NetZero phenomenon in the late 1990s/early 2000s. NetZero’s model was to offer free Internet access, which would attract an audience for highly targeted advertising. In other words, people could get the internet for free in exchange for seeing targeted ads. Give your identity, get free content.

The problem with NetZero’s model was that it attracted people who wanted free internet, which tended to be students or those with low income. While the targeted ads were effective for this demographic, advertisers are generally more interested in reaching consumers with higher income, since they have more money to spend.

So, while the targeted ads did, in fact, reach the relevant people, they were limited.

The situation of Unified 2.0 seems similar. Those who adopt it are not likely to have a lot of expendable income, which will create an ecosystem in which advertisers’ targeted ads will be limited.

However, because Unified 2.0 does add a measure of convenience and offer an alternative to Google’s suggestion of giving tech giants more and more power (read more about in is our previous post), we’ll need to see how users react to it. If history is any indication, it will face challenges, but if the creators can find a way to broaden its reach, it has a lot of potential.