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“All solutions are not equal in terms of if and how they meet the needs of [consumers, advertisers and publishers],” Sullivan says. “It’s not just finding ways to track more, but a system that engenders better communication between consumers and the industry, and therefore a higher degree of trust.”
Other than the cookie, the IAB puts forth the following categories for web activity tracking:
• Device IDs—digital signatures attached to each device a consumer uses to access the Internet. She can set whether she shares her IDs with the advertising industry or not. For instance, if she shared her laptop ID with all advertisers, both Amazon.com Inc. and eBay Inc. would recognize her as the same shopper as soon as she visited their sites based on the fact that she was on her laptop, Sullivan says. Today, Amazon and eBay recognize consumers via their own, separate cookies. The advantage for the consumer is that she would be able to register preferences with her device that push to all web sites—for instance, telling her laptop to not share her identity with any web sites, versus telling each one “do not track” manually.
• Client IDs—the same idea as device IDs, but using a consumer’s browser, app or operating system to keep track of her preferences and share that information with web sites. Today, the Apple and Android operating systems both offer consumers an “advertising ID” to set preferences about how their browsing activity is tracked on mobile. However, those IDs are used only within those operating systems.
• Network IDs—putting a “middleman” server between a consumer’s device and the servers where web sites are hosted. The middleman keeps track of a consumer’s ID and manages how her preferences are shared with the servers her device is calling to load web pages.
• Cloud IDs—consumers, advertisers and publishers agree to use one centralized, web-based service for managing consumers’ IDs and associated preferences. Sullivan points out that this isn’t the same as storing all a consumer’s personal information in the cloud; rather, it’s a cloud-based service that manages how information is shared between parties. A consumer could, perhaps, log into the service to adjust settings about when and how her identity is revealed to publishers and advertisers, as in “never from my smartphone browser, but OK through my apps.”
Some companies and organizations have begun work on new technologies that fit into the IAB framework, Sullivan says. Besides the work by Google and Apple on their own advertising IDs, he says, personalization technology company Phorm is developing a network ID.
It will be years before we can expect the deployment of a new cookie alternative that can fully address all the publishers’, advertisers’ and consumers’ needs outlined in the report, Sullivan says. The purpose in clearly defining the problem and setting up a framework around potential solutions now is to help the industry begin to discuss how it might coordinate creating a broadly applicable cookie alternative. One factor will be whether the advertising industry decides on standards for how IDs might be created, used and managed, Sullivan says.