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There have been an increasing number of recent rumors that Google Chrome might block third-party cookies, or at least limit them to some degree, which would fundamentally change the programmatic ecosystem.

If Google implements third-party cookie blocking, the first result would be to further entrench the large consumer-facing platforms, much like many thought would happen with GDPR. Google, Facebook and Amazon, in particular, would benefit.

Audience targeting of nearly any sort would only be available on these platforms. This ranges from sophisticated behavioral targeting, to retargeting and more mundane tracking like frequency capping. Marketers that have email data may only be able to activate on the big consumer platforms. And only these platforms would be able to perform post-view attribution of any sort.

With trust in Facebook at rock bottom, and with trust in Google steadily declining, Amazon may be well-positioned to pick up material share, albeit at the expense of independent ad tech.

In the alternative, vendors may move to target knowable identifiers like IP address, which may be increasingly valuable as IPv6 grows in prominence (it’s now at roughly 25% ). While there are clear shortcomings with this sort of targeting, it is better than nothing – especially for simple measures like frequency caps.

This would require effectively permanent stores of server-side data that could further obscure consumer insights into the collection of data. That said, this runs headfirst against the spirit and possibly substance of the privacy legislation movement and may not be a sustainable approach.

With limited third-party cookies, publishers also become vastly more important. Context grows significantly in prominence and may quickly develop into being the easiest channel for scaled programmatic activation. Publishers will also likely aggressively evaluate and monetize their own data. This includes email and demographic data.

Publishers may also potentially ask users for additional data, based on a key like an email, for access to articles. It is possible a publisher coop could emerge, allowing publishers to share data based on IDs and monetize more effectively across the ecosystem using the data they’ve collected. The programmatic ecosystem may suffer, and there may be a move toward automated guaranteed or similar transaction types.

It is likely in Google’s interest to have an independent ad tech ecosystem, especially if Chrome’s changes might otherwise cause significant, potentially “anticompetitive,” harm. As a result, it is possible Google allows the ecosystem to leverage anonymous identifiers through the Google Advertising platform.

For example, exchange bidding could pass a hashed ID of the Google cookie to its partners and similarly make the same available on a server-to-server basis for various pixel calls. To the extent that Google is the only platform that makes this available, it would have the added benefit of effectively forcing everyone (except Amazon) into exchange bidding if they want user data, and thus into Google’s single auction.

That said, Amazon is well situated to provide a similar, competitive service through its transparent ad marketplace product. These moves, combined with click post-backs and other mechanisms, could circumvent much of the cookie-blocking moves. This may be more wishful thinking than a likely outcome.

If publishers cannot monetize as they have previously, they could potentially move their content entirely behind paywalls or take a metered approach, leveraging tools such as Google’s Funding Choices or, potentially, Apple News. More publishers moving to a paywall, which historically has not been very viable, could potentially improve the appeal of Apple’s News subscription – which otherwise might be a fairly unattractive proposition – for both consumers and publishers.

Marketers, meanwhile, may move to marketing channels that aren’t reliant on cookies. This includes consumer platforms, email, OTT, mobile app and others. We may also see the display ecosystem move away from audience-based and direct-response targeting toward one based more on context. This would require a significant publisher investment in formats and user experience.

That said, moving the ecosystem away from direct-response dollars toward branding experiences could prove highly beneficial for premium publishers of high-quality content.

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