All change: seizing the opportunities for audience measurement in a post-cookie world?

Audience measurement is ready for the challenges of a post-cookie world – but concerted effort is needed to rearchitect data systems and maintain trust with clients and consumers.
17 March 2022
Seizing the opportunity
Stuart Wilkinson

International Digital Business Development Director, Media Division, UK

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The opportunities and challenges of first-party data continue to provoke great debate. It was the core focus of a session I chaired at the most recent World Audiences Summit, where we discussed how best to navigate the uncertainty resulting from both the demise of cookies and increasing online privacy regulation.

There are arguably three great challenges (or opportunities) facing audience measurement:

  • Increased regulation of the web by governments and regulatory bodies seeking to foster competition, enhance transparency and increase consumers’ control of their own data. Regulation, which typically lags behind technology, makes it important for companies dealing with data to look ahead and anticipate. What’s acceptable and common practice today may not be so tomorrow.
  • Global online platforms’ increasing focus on curating privacy for the industry, from Apple’s app-tracking transparency initiatives to Google’s planned move to block cookies.
  • The rest of the open web’s quest for cookie ID alternatives and a way to best leverage first-party identifiers into internal and third-party measurement and other online intermediary service programmes.

It's clear we’re in the midst of a rearchitecting of the internet and the way that it’s measured. The opportunities presented by first-party data are exciting, but can it fill the hole left by cookies which, up to now, have allowed us to track online users, providing vital input to understanding reach, frequency and competitive context? To leverage first-party data and make the most of its potential, three components are needed: an fundament on privacy compliance, the deployment of new data science techniques that enhance and combine data sets intelligently, and the critical role of consented panels as the underlying source of truth.

Rearchitecting to leverage first-party data

Paola Colombo of Publitalia provided fascinating insights at our summit into how to best leverage first-party user data. Publitalia is navigating its post-cookie path by ‘rearchitecting identity’. In their case new data science techniques allows them to build upon the combination of consented consumer first-party data from connected TVs with second-screen data from mobile devices in order to create an in-house custom panel and device graph. To achieve this, they have needed to rearchitect their approach to handling data, with the privacy by design principals leveraging their first-party data at the core. This encompasses their DMPs, analytics systems and a range of third parties with access to the data. Handling first-party data requires significant investment in a future-proof infrastructure From technology, to engineering, management and governance.

It was repeatedly stressed at the summit that measurement is a team sport and first-party data alone is not the sole solution in a post-cookie world. There’s a lot that companies can do with their own data within their own environment, but the next step for Publitalia will be to connect its data sets with others in a privacy-compliant way.

“The next step for us is based on the principle that the market doesn't need another walled garden. You don't have to work in a walled garden to be able to ensure that consumer privacy is safeguarded. The market has to be connected both for targeting and especially for measurement.” – Paola Colombo, General Manager, Adtech & Business Development, Publitalia

And when it comes to combining data sets in a privacy-compliant way, Kantar’s global data science team is leading the way. Our own Sushmita Jain confirmed that the processes and algorithms we use are not solely reliant on cookies to tie web usage signals to users. Our guiding principle in combining first-party data with Kantar’s own panel data around the world is that the panels implicitly provide a direct relationship based on consent for tracking individuals’ media behaviour.

“The good news is that for Kantar’s cross-media measurement services, once we have access to data, the data science techniques that we deploy do not solely use or rely on cookies from census data. First party ID signals are equally as viable for matching census events to our panellists for downstream analysis.” – Sushmita Jain, Director, Data Science, Kantar

In a post-cookie world, the panel’s importance as the foundational source of demographics and truth is now clear and reinforced – a constant theme at the summit. A shift towards First Party IDs as a key ingredient for data matching future-proofs us against the cookie changes and new privacy legislation.

One important area of development highlighted by Sushmita is how Kantar accesses census data. Currently we use tags, either our own or from approved third-parties. We can now also work directly with first-party data, like log data from broadcaster players, by using a secure data-exchange platform. This allows us to query first-party data and receive the aggregated estimates required without needing to access non-panellists’ individuals level data. A privacy friendly ‘double blind encryption’ feature is used to combine such data sets. This approach is future-ready as it minimises the use of direct personally identifiable information (PII) in the system.

The importance of trust

It’s clear that the demise of the cookie presents a new challenge rather than a threat, provided that the wider ecology of measurement can be rearchitected towards leveraging first-party data, consented panels and new data science approaches.

To ensure this transition is as smooth as possible, there were two related ‘rallying cries’ at the summit. The first addressed the need for trust – ensuring that clients feel able to use data sets with confidence. Sky’s Lucy Bristowe highlighted how auditing will play an increasingly vital role in this.

Educating the regulators

The second rallying cry stressed the need to ensure that those setting the agenda for privacy legislation understand the vital role media measurement plays in the media ecosystem. As an industry, both suppliers and data users need to have very open, collaborative discussions about how we become more vocal in educating the many different stakeholders and regulators deciding these new privacy regulations.

We need to reach out to help them understand the importance of audience measurement in the wider digital and media economy – the benefits we bring as an industry. We’re active in this process, along with peers and partners. Under the umbrella of an Audience Measurement Coalition, Kantar is actively working with to help Members of the European Parliament, European Commission and European Council to understand the critical role and practices in audience measurement for the whole digital economy as they legislate upon the forthcoming Digital Markets Act and Digital Services Act. 

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