Within 10 days (we’re writing these lines on May 15, 2018), GDPR will be enforced all across Europe. Both advertisers and publishers will actively be looking for the best future-proof universal identifier.

Today we can say with a strong conviction that this post-GDPR key pivot will neither be a cookie nor an advertising ID (IDFA at Apple, Advertising ID at Google) nor a GAFAM login, for a few reasons which we’ll outline in this piece.

Cookies: not persistent + lack transparency by design.

Using cookies as advertising enhancers wasn’t the intended scope for these small text files when they were first implemented 20 years ago. But creative marketers are always fast to imagine unintended use cases for otherwise harmless features. The nascent adtech industry quickly found how to repurpose them for profiling and tracking purposes.

But cookies were born in a pre-mobile era, de facto limited to a browser environment, difficult to port to other devices to get a holistic view of the customer journey. Moreover, they’re not persistent. Users can easily flush them and they have anyway a limited shelf life. Not to mention the recent blow struck to cookie advocates by Apple which restricted in late 2017 the use of third-party trackers in their flagship browser, Safari.

Advertising ID: too much power in the hands of device providers.

With the exponential acceleration of mobile adoption since 2008 (launch of the iphone), the adtech industry’s attention has gradually shifted from old school cookies (still favored by 99% of industry players in late 2013) to mobile-first advertising identifiers, called the IDFA (identifier for advertisers) in Cupertino and Google Advertising ID in Mountain View.

It’s somehow tougher for users to get rid of them (even if you can opt out in a few taps both on Android and iOS). If they’re not deleted, they tend to have a longer shelf life than web cookies. So why shouldn’t we rely on them as the best universal identifier in the post-GDPR era? Simply put, because this would give far too much power in the hands of device providers.

If you trust a specific oil company, would you allow your car manufacturer to decide which petrol station you’ll visit for your next refueling stop? If you’ve been a loyal customer of a quality airline for the last five years, would you listen to online flight brokers, with their own hidden agenda? If you’re a die hard fan of a few indie artists you’ve been following since your teenage years, would you let the almighty Spotify alter your personal taste with an algorithmic playlist? And the list goes on and on… Consumers should always have the choice to allow advertisers to entertain with them an open non-mediated relationship. Device manufacturers shouldn’t act as commercial gatekeepers, even if they pretend to be moved by the best intentions, mostly privacy and security.

The oligopoly of logged in silos. 

Besides the flaws of platform-specific advertising identifiers, we have to be aware of the widening gap between legacy open environments and logged-in silos (FB, Google, Amazon,…), which now capture most of the ad spend value thanks to their unparalleled data trove. Betting on the advertising ID and blindly relying on data from logged-in platforms would add two proprietary layers on top of each other between users and service providers, ultimately at the expense of consumers’ free will.

And the winner is… 

If we accept that cookies are dead and that mobile advertising identifiers as well as GAFAM logins are far too proprietary, which universal identifier should we trust?

Our suggestion is the email, which has been around since the early days of the web, surviving all the storms of platform and usage evolutions. In the late 1990s it was joined by the mobile phone number, which has been instrumental in the quick adoption of messaging applications (most of them tapping into your contact list to populate their graph). But most users are still more likely to communicate their email than their phone number (see how many prospects you lose between the email and phone fields in a lead generation flow).

Emails can be hashed to anonymously match users between a publisher’s readership and an advertiser’s clientele without exposing the identity of the customer. Users can control which rights they attach to their email for specific providers. They’re in the driver’s seat. No Stockholm syndrome at the mercy of walled gardens landlords. No lock-in from device manufacturers. The email is a genuine facilitator of users’ empowerment, totally aligned with the latest advances in personal data processing.

For all these reasons, we at ividence strongly believe that email is a strong contender to become the best future-proof universal identifier in a post-GDPR world.


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