The privacy goals of the major web browsers will have a significant impact on advertising measurement and possibly eliminate cross-channel attribution.
Why it matters — The ability to measure 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 only funding a small number of sites. While each browser comes at privacy differently, they all are moving to isolate a person's activity. So, no cross-site linking of individual's ad exposure and conversion and increasing 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 will need to 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 major changes to how the web operates in the name of privacy. Some of these changes are happening in secret, and some are happening in the open, if you know where to look. The browsers regularly chat in meetings organized by the W3C in an effort to reach broad adoption and standardization.
Chrome, the largest browser by market share, has been very open about its public goals and methods to achieve those stated goals. The core goal of Chrome’s efforts are 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.” The goal is to ensure that Chrome can isolate a user’s activity within Chrome and usually per first-party website; the website the user is currently visiting. The challenge is that advertisers have poured money into online advertising because of the ability to measure ad effectiveness across sites, and removing the ability to attribute ad effectiveness across sites might cause advertisers to only fund a small number of sites. Chrome, and Google, recognize that a large part of the diversity of the web owes to the ease in which a new website can quickly monetize content and removing cross-site attribution would reduce the amount of new websites.
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, and Apple sees itself as a gatekeeper to access those users of its devices, and keeping userdata on the device is a cornerstone of that belief. What that means for Safari, the default web browser on iOS devices, is that Safari is aggressively removing cross-site linking capabilities. Safari’s essentially removed support for third party cookies, and is working to permit some limited coarse advertising attribution in a manner that prevents cross-site user behavior correlations to be linked. Apple’s Private Relay will obscure IP addresses of Apple users when they visit websites, making IP address an unreliable address to use to subsequently reach users.
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, ranging from permissive to very strict, depending on the user’s convenience/privacy preferences. 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-device and some may occur on a server trusted to calculate minimum privacy guarantees.
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 with respect to third party cookies, and has been using a list of known advertising companies to block traffic and content. Firefox introduced the idea of “containers”, an early move to isolate first party relationships from third party relationships, now a common theme amongst browsers.
What Do the Browsers Have in Common?
Each browser comes at the issue of privacy a bit differently, but they converge in one key respect: they want 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 will not 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 browsers; we expect devices like mobile phones, IOT devices, videoplaying hardware, etc. to follow a similar trend of keeping data on-device. 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 for the forward thinking partners we work with.