Jordan Mitchell of the Interactive Advertising Bureau's Tech Lab is proposing a new way of tracking users on the internet—one that would also give users an option to better protect their privacy.
“Look, if a consumer wants to be a ghost, they should be able to be a ghost,” meaning users should be armed with the ability to not be tracked, says Mitchell, who is senior VP of membership and operations at the IAB Tech Lab. “There is only one way to allow that, and it’s by providing the consumer with that choice and having the infrastructure, accountability and compliance behind it to make sure that is the case.”
Cookies are used to track consumers all over the web, provide analytics and personalization, among other things. They were introduced nearly 25 years ago, and the standards surrounding them have barely changed, if at all. The IAB Tech Lab is known for developing standards — such as how digital video should render, or the size of display ads — in collaboration with its members, which include digital publishers, ad tech companies, agencies and marketers.
Its latest effort aims to develop more modern protocols as cookies fall out of favor, with the goal of being able to empower consumers with straightforward privacy options. Mitchell says he’s held discussions with all the major browser makers, including Google, Mozilla and Apple.
The hurdle, he says, is getting the major browsers to collaborate and help create a new standard. He says Apple isn't interested in doing that, and its Safari browser commands nearly a 52 percent market share on mobile in the U.S., according to the latest figures from Amazon-owned Statista. (Google Chrome has a little more than 40 percent).
"They historically have shown that they don’t play well with others,” Mitchell says, in regards to Apple working with the IAB, adding that how cookies are used "should be according to the consumer, and not according to Apple.”
Apple did not respond to emails from Ad Age seeking comment on Mitchell’s remarks.
Others, such as Mozilla and its Firefox browser, might also be hesitant to play ball, as it’s adopted a similar stance to Apple, Mitchell says. Without support from the major browsers, it may prove difficult to scale an ambitious privacy feature.
“Our first priority is to openly collaborate with all the major browsers,” Mitchell says. “Some are in a position to do more than others. It may take time for a browser to trust our intentions, so we will continue to have those conversations. Or maybe there are other tactics we can utilize to convince them that this is something we are taking very seriously.”
Apple’s Safari browser has essentially done away with cookies, which in turn has caused havoc among marketers. Mitchell, and others, believes Apple’s hardline approach on cookies has unintended consequences in areas not related to advertising; publishers, for example, may face significant hurdles in gathering analytics data. Apple's stance has also allowed the company to market its products as consumer privacy-friendly, and it has taken shots at rival phone maker Google in the past.
Mitchell believes most consumers are fine with first-party brands using cookies in exchange for improved user experiences – i.e. recommended news stories, remembering your login, etc. – but where they take issue is with the onslaught of third parties who use that data, and with not knowing anything about who these third parties are.
Mitchell adds that it would be counterproductive to develop new settings that mimic those of Google and Facebook, adding that those platforms offer so many privacy options. He envisions something “more streamlined, more simple.” In a long post this week, Mitchell proposed that users get a “neutral, standardized identifier” that would contain their privacy controls and that would travel across the internet with them. To get access to the identifier, companies would have to comply with the attached privacy preferences.
Patrick Hanlon, author of “Primal Branding” and CEO of brand consultancy Thinktopia, believes a “top down” approach to reforming the system won’t work. “Users will have to declare what standards they are willing to accept or they won’t be adopted,” Hanlon says. “It’s as simple as that.”
Hanlon adds that it’s “on-brand” for Apple to push back against the IAB’s reform efforts. Apple “has never taken kindly to being pushed around by other bodies—whether they were trade efforts, industry trends or even their own consumers,” he says.