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Why DigiTrust’s Unified ID is finally challenging the status quo for cookies

We’ve been hearing about the imminent death of the traditional cookie-based approach to identifying website users for some time. The problem is nothing has yet come along to challenge the status quo. Could DigiTrust’s Unified ID be the answer? Here’s everything publishers need to know about the technology.

What is unified ID?

“The term Unified ID can mean a lot of things,” says Jordan Mitchell, CEO of DigiTrust. “It gets thrown around quite a bit by different parties. In our context it means a standardised cookie-based identifier for all web experiences – desktop, mobile and tablet.”

Unified ID provides the same function as Apple’s ID for advertisers (IDFA), which gives users an identifiable user token across the company’s mobile devices. This means a better experience for users, publisher, platforms, advertisers and everyone in between.

However, DigiTrust’s Unified ID takes this a step further by providing an identifier for all devices, not just for mobile – although you cannot yet identify the same person’s activities across different devices. While it’s not a universal ID it is a major step towards that.

“The market dream is a universal ID for all consumers across all devices,” says Mitchell. “This is much more challenging, not necessarily from a technical perspective but from an industry co-operation perspective. Getting publishers, platforms and the many other different parties in the eco-system working together towards a common standard is the difficult part here.”

The challenge Unified ID is tackling

So why is the current system not working?

As things stand at the moment, every time someone visits a publisher’s webpage it sparks a huge number of ID requests to that page from different sources – at least 75% of these are from the different platforms within the ad eco system. DigiTrust’s own research has seen an average of around 88 third-party requests on every single page, and this is dramatically impacting user experience and causing pages to take longer to load.

With no common standard there are a huge number of different identifiers being used, and these cookies can only be read by the party that sets them. “Imagine this from the perspective of going to a conference,” explains Mitchell. “You get one name tag and everyone you meet can read your name tag. In the current web experience it’s like everyone can only read the name tag that they put on you. This means that you as the delegate (or consumer), end up having hundreds of different name tags all over you. That is annoying for users.”

Understandably, we’re seeing a backlash against having hundreds of different cookies loading in every page and being stored with every browser. Publishers are seeing request for IDs coming from companies that they have never heard of either (they may be companies working with the advertisers but not directly with the publisher). This is happening on their pages, it’s slowing them down and creating anxiety with consumers and regulators.

The harsh reality is that having so many different and disparate companies all trying to identify individual users is actually impeding audience recognition for the entire industry. With every data sync that needs to happen between different platforms for publishers and advertisers to get a clear picture of their overall audience, you get 30-35% reduction in audience recognition. And you can be looking at several syncs. This means much lower CPM for publishers – in fact, according to Mitchell publishers make three to four times the CPM on an impression where the user is recognised.

“If we’re all using the same ID and working towards propagating that then we all win,” says Mitchell. “We get a faster experience for users, higher CPM for publishers and greater reach and scale for every advertiser and platform. This is the driving force behind DigiTrust’s Unified ID.”

What does Unified ID really mean for publishers?

Aside from improved audience recognition and increased revenues from better CPMs, publishers using DigiTrust’s Unified ID also benefit from simplicity. DigiTrust uses a common Java script file to set an ID that can then be read by all parties involved. That ID is then distributed via a simple API request from any member who lands on that page. This removes the need to synchronise with a host of different platforms to maintain comprehensive mapping tables, because everyone is now speaking the same language.

It also means taking back control. “Publishers can start to tell all those different third parties to get off their pages,” says Mitchell. “With fewer pixels on their pages, they have greater control as well as reduced concern for data leakage. This latter point is crucial with so many publishers being focused on preparing for GDPR in the next few months.”

Unlike any of the other cookie providers on the market, DigiTrust is a neutral non-profit organisation. “When we established DigiTrust it was essential that we did not have investors or shareholders, so this is an organisation that cannot be ‘sold on’,” explains Mitchell. “We were very careful to set up as a global organisation that has one charter: to serve its members needs.”

And finally, DigiTrust’s Unified ID is free for publishers to use, the burden of cost falls with the platforms. This is an operational model that has received the full support of the platforms already involved with the project.

With major publishers like CBS Interactive already on-board with DigiTrust’s Unified ID, and with The Telegraph and News Corp likely to sign up shortly, a new dawn for audience recognition could be just around the corner.

Further reading:

ExchangeWireDigiTrust gains momentum: Advertisers find agencies untrustworthy

DigiTrustDigiTrust Consortium hits critical mass with 14 top publishers and 29 technology platforms deploying