The major web browsers' privacy goals will significantly impact advertising measurement and possibly eliminate cross-channel attribution.
Why it matters — Measuring ad effectiveness across sites is the backbone of traditional online display advertising. But measurement through attribution is advertising's supernova, and its elimination might result in advertisers funding only a few sites. While each browser comes at privacy differently, they all move to isolate a person's activity. So, no cross-site linking of an individual's ad exposure and conversion increases the difficulty for brands buying ads across the web, and smaller sites are likely to lose advertising support. We'll see a new web emerge from these changes and new ways for brands to measure success. Advertisers and publishers must take action early to better prepare for the future.
The major browsers, Chrome (65% market share), Safari (19% market share), Edge (3% market share), and Firefox (3% market share), are making significant changes to how the web operates in the name of privacy. Some of these changes happen in secret, and some in the open, if you know where to look. The browsers regularly chat in meetings organized by the W3C to reach broad adoption and standardization.
Chrome’s Privacy Sandbox and Topics — What’s the Latest?
Google’s Chrome, the largest browser by market share, has been very open about its goals and methods to achieve them. This includes responding to critical feedback with product changes. The core goal of Chrome’s efforts is to end the “pervasive cross-site tracking that has become the norm on the web and on top of which much of the web’s ability to deliver and monetize content has been built.” While Google recently announced that the third-party cookie deprecation will be postponed until 2024, its aim remains. That is, to improve people’s privacy while giving businesses the tools to succeed on the open web.
The goal is to ensure that Chrome can isolate a user’s activity within Chrome. Usually, per a first-party website, the website the user is visiting. The challenge is that advertisers have poured money into online advertising because of the ability to measure ad effectiveness across sites. This removes the ability to attribute ad effectiveness across sites and might cause advertisers to only fund a few sites. Chrome, and Google, recognize that a large part of the diversity of the web owes to the ease with which a new website can quickly monetize content. Removing cross-site attribution would reduce the number of new websites.
Is Safari the Privacy King of Web Browsers?
Safari’s goal is a subset of Apple’s goal to ensure everything stays on the device. Apple sells devices. Apple’s primary customers are iPhone purchasers. Apple sees itself as a gatekeeper to access those device users, and keeping user data on the device is a cornerstone of that belief. Safari, the default web browser on iOS devices, aggressively removes cross-site linking capabilities. Safari essentially removed support for third-party cookies and is working on permitting some limited coarse advertising attribution that prevents cross-site user behavior correlations from being linked. As a result, Apple’s Private Relay will obscure Apple users’ IP addresses when they visit websites, making IP addresses unreliable to use to reach users.
How Microsoft Edge Does Privacy (And Drives Revenue for Publishers)
Microsoft’s Edge browser is working to increase user privacy without breaking site monetization. Edge has worked with partners and users to develop variable levels of traffic blocking. Users can choose from several levels of content blocking. Depending on the user’s convenience/privacy preferences, they range from permissive to very strict. In addition, Edge has been working in the W3C to propose technical standards that protect user privacy using differential privacy mechanisms, most notably PARAKEET. Some of this computation will occur on the device, and others may be on a server trusted to calculate minimum privacy guarantees.
Microsoft Edge has been making rapid improvements to upgrade its privacy bona-fides. Recently, Edge has added support for more nuanced third-party cookie handling, a revamped user privacy settings page, and a few other valuable enhancements in a nod to the growing importance of consumer privacy.
Firefox — Cookieless By Design
Finally, Firefox has made its core selling point its privacy benefits compared to the other browsers. So Firefox’s dedication to privacy issues is core to its survival. Firefox has taken an aggressive stance concerning third-party cookies and has used a list of known advertising companies to block traffic and content. In addition, Firefox introduced the idea of “containers,” an early move to isolate first-party relationships from third-party relationships, now a common theme amongst browsers.
They also recently implemented the “Total Cookie Protection.” This offers enhanced protection against online tracking by limiting a website’s ability to read third-party cookies. This new feature goes along the lines of Mozilla’s privacy-focused development strategy, which sharply contrasts with Google Chrome.
What Do Web Browsers Have in Common?
Each web browser comes at the issue of privacy a bit differently. Still, they converge in one essential respect: to isolate a user’s activity on one web property to only the browser and that web property. This means that cross-site linking of individual users is in the path of the browser bulldozer and won’t survive the next few years. Without cross-site linking of ad exposure and conversion, determining where to spend ad dollars will become increasingly difficult for brands that want to buy ads across the web or support smaller websites.
This trend isn’t limited to web browsers; we expect devices like mobile phones, IoT devices, video-playing hardware, etc., to follow a similar trend of keeping data on devices. However, by leaning into the new reality and preparing now, advertisers and publishers can better prepare themselves for the future. TripleLift has been working with publishers and advertisers and compiling best practices and what-to-expect guides. As well as for the forward-thinking partners we work with. With third-party cookies going away, it’s time to get pragmatic.