Tackling the Identity Challenge: An interview with Carol Starr, Rubicon Project


In association with Rubicon Project.

Speaking exclusively to ExchangeWire, Carol Starr (pictured below), managing director - Northern Europe at Rubicon Project, details the identity challenge facing publishers and ad tech alike, along with the strategies which can be used to overcome these using presently-available solutions.


How can independent ad tech players outside of the walled gardens overcome restrictions on tracking caused by ITP and regulatory judgement?

With regard to browsers that block third party cookies, there are few options:
- For publishers who use Prebid as their header bidding solution, take advantage of the Prebid User ID Module which allows publishers to use a first party cookie as a storage mechanism for standardised or "universal" IDs. The User ID Module stores these standardised values in a publisher-controlled first-party cookie and then makes them available to the various Prebid bid adapters at auction run time.
- Develop more advanced contextual targeting technology. The industry is starting to move in this direction again in small steps. With the advances in machine learning in recent years it should become possible to effectively target ads via context without the need for 'personalised' identifiers.
- Publishers lean into the concept of single sign-on groups or consortia, similar to what we're seeing with NetID in Germany and Ozone in the UK. By transparently sharing consented log-in data publishers can increase ad efficiency while working around ID limitations. Note however that these systems frequently work by setting a third-party cookie, so that issue needs to be addressed for them to really scale.

Carol Starr

Carol Starr, managing director – Northern Europe at Rubicon Project

The above options can be viable alternatives for the digital advertising industry if we manage to scale them programmatically. After all, let's not forget that programmatic ad spend in Germany already accounts for 70% of total digital display ad spend. This will require players in the programmatic space to get together. Publishers will need tools to surface signals, Ad Exchanges will need to derive/pull these signals while DSPs will need to be able to understand them and value them, which at first likely will mean to fold any of these solutions into their existing data model.

With regard to regulatory issues, certainly the only option is to work within the parameters of those regulations and make sure that identity is handled transparently, out in the open, and with publisher and end-user consent. Ultimately GDPR or any other similar regulation are there for the good of the consumer, which is something we fully support.

Will control of any first-party data assets become critical, or will cookie-less ID solutions support the broader programmatic industry that we see today?

So far there are no truly viable cookie-less ID solutions at scale. And regardless, identity should be something that is controlled by the publisher and the end user, not ad tech platforms. The best way to achieve that is through first-party data and collaboration with the content producers and the content consumers.

What will be the most significant opportunities for publishers and marketers throughout this period of disruption going into 2020?

In addition to the above point issues, the entirety of this disruption to the ways in which digital advertising is transacted represents a massive opportunity for the ecosystem to collectively "come in from the cold" and recognise that the methods used need to be open, above board, and transparent for all.

Should ID solutions be a commercial endeavor, or should a collaborative not-for-profit solution be found?

Identity should not be a profit center, full stop. It should be a community asset.

How do the available ID solutions address the issues surrounding targeting in the post-GDPR era?

Any ID solution should support and promote the concepts of consent and privacy, and should obviously be engineered with this in mind from day one.