When Ad Technology Is Misunderstood - Case In Point: The Wall Street Journal
On Tuesday, January 28th, the Wall Street Journal posted an article focused on the release of an IAB paper “Privacy and Tracking in a Post-Cookie World.” The story on WSJ.com originally contained three errors related to fundamental aspects of the IAB’s membership, technical ramifications of described technology and the nature of the document discussing current technological alternatives to the cookie. We appreciate the Journal’s willingness to make those fixes resulting in a decidedly more accurate representation of the IAB and the digital advertising industry. However, I would still like to address a few instances of language selection that could be easily misinterpreted by an average reader.
First, I would like to explain what a cookie is and how it works, since the description in the Wall Street Journal wasn’t on the mark.
The IAB’s Wiki calls it “a string of text from a web server to a user’s browser that the browser is expected to send back to the web server in subsequent interactions.” Yes, the cookie is also the means by which tracking and preference management happens today in digital advertising, but “code” is another word for software that implies active functionality. As anyone familiar with web or internet technology knows, a cookie is just a marker like a security badge (the analogy given in our whitepaper) or a supermarket customer loyalty card.
Second, within the article, there is an implication that client-generated state management (device IDs) could consolidate online tracking in the hands of specific vendors.
In fact those vendors would only control the underlying mechanism that creates the IDs and not the nature of the way those IDs are used by the industry. This is equivalent to saying that the phone company has control over your supermarket loyalty program data because in that case the ID is your phone number. In fact, within this particular solution class, we have seen two very privacy-centric implementations by Apple and Google in their respective mobile operating systems.
The third potential misinterpretation comes from the statement that device IDs solve the problem of cross device tracking.
Since client-generated state is created within a specific operating environment (such as a device operating system or a browser) it does not enable cross-device tracking. In fact, no current implementations of client-generated state allow automatic industry-wide cross-browser or cross-device tracking. This can and should only ever be possible at the bequest of the user.
Lastly, the cloud solution class described in the document is meant to be a connector between different state management technologies, not a warehouse of personal data, as asserted in the article.
In fact, the cloud technology envisioned in the whitepaper could become the technology that enables a user to synchronize their advertising preferences across devices and domains.
In fairness to the journalist, I recognize that this is rather technical for a general business audience. But, we at the IAB feel it is important to accurately represent technology and prevent the perpetuation of misunderstanding for the purpose of easy readability.
About the Author
Steve Sullivan is VP of Advertising Technology at the IAB, and on Twitter at @SteveSullivan32.