Do you hear that? That’s the sound of the bottom of the barrel, or in this case, the cookie jar being scraped for the last remaining crumbs. News that Google is to phase out support for third-party cookies by 2022 has been met with a mixture of trepidation, cynicism and probably on a smaller scale, relief. No more waiting around for action: Google is all in.

Of course, by Apple and Mozilla’s standards, they are significantly late to the party. Still, the industry can take some small comfort knowing that Google will offer a two-year grace period before they are removed completely. In its place, the platform is looking to leverage its “Privacy Sandbox” to develop a set of open standards, finding alternatives to ad targeting and conversion tracking that aims to put user-privacy first.

Yet, much of this remains theoretical at this stage. It’s no coincidence that Google has made this announcement at a time when the industry is in flux, dealing with the privacy fallout on all fronts. To remain impassive or roll out incremental changes (as it has been doing the past few years) would have been inadequate amid rising user pressure and further regulatory scrutiny.

Look I get why some people are panicking. After all, there is no clear and viable alternative yet to be offered up by Google, however, by hammering that final nail into the cookie coffin, we now have an opportunity to rebuild a more transparent digital advertising ecosystem that encompasses audience targeting, programmatic buying and advanced attribution for all.

There is no other alternative anyway. Further browser crackdowns were inevitable, especially with the implementation of the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) this year, joining GDPR as the main bodies for data governance. For us regionally, I expect there to be more guidance from the IAB GCC as to how we navigate this transition period.

So, in the immediate term, what can we expect? Well, things will still look uncertain for a time as to how this will affect all the different players – the lines are too blurred to make a clean break – however, one thing is certain: Private Market Places (PMPs) will be impacted the least by this move because they use first-party rather than third-party data.

Data, as a result, will become the most lucrative currency to trade in as these changes come into effect. However, we’ll start to see more restrictions imposed as well, levied at those that caused the issues in the first place: the social players harvesting personal, rather than behavioural data.

Whatever comes of this shift, we’re closing the chapter on a turbulent few years, where recovery hasn’t been linear amid ongoing data scandals and concerns. In many ways, we (the vendors and non-social players) were the collateral damage as the fallout grew, but as education improves and users become more aware of their digital footprint, as well as the need for a fair exchange of data for advertising, we can begin to open up further opportunities online.

For publishers, the death of third-party cookies presents an opening to actively own their data moving forward. They spent much of last year really understanding and embracing the advantages of programmatic and its associated technologies, investing in their infrastructure to become more compliant and effective. Now they will need to nurture their own audience data to understand behaviours for better segmentation and targeting, giving them a greater level of autonomy overall.

Right now, we have a vague idea where Google is heading by adopting techniques and technologies like differential privacy and federated learning, which will allow them to preserve user anonymity, whilst still retaining access to huge amounts of data. However, the general consensus is that this doesn’t go far enough in terms of meeting advertisers’ needs as it currently stands. That being said, it’s a ‘work in progress’ and as everyone weighs in with their comments and concerns, there’s a good chance this will be addressed further down the line.

Of course, the (very) cynical side of me knows that Google hasn’t taken this last step without considering the impact on its own data ecosystem. They can still rely greatly on first-party data collected from users signing into their platform through search, Gmail, Drive or YouTube. Ultimately this could make Google an even more important intermediary in future, which means the balance of power isn’t shifting away from them anytime soon.

But one thing is absolutely clear: Digital advertising and internet privacy must now go hand in hand. Google has a responsibility to both users and advertisers alike to strike a balance between continuing to monetise digital advertising, whilst also putting users at ease with a tighter privacy policy.

Long-term, we could see the duopoly dominance comprising of Google and Facebook pivot to a new offering altogether as user control comes further into the spotlight. Facebook has already taken steps towards this, unifying their apps under one corporate umbrella and putting transparency at the heart of future growth, yet they still haven’t been able to regain user trust completely, and this showed in their latest earnings report. Despite beating Wall Street expectations, Facebook recorded its slowest pace of growth since its IPO days. Still, I bet that Zuckerberg isn’t too broken up given revenues for the fourth quarter still rose to a record $21.1billion. Maybe he’s crying on the inside.

Anyway, my view for now is that we need to be pragmatic and get to work sooner rather than later in the wake of Google’s announcement; we’ve spent far too long waiting for the inevitable, now is the time to act. As the cookie crumbles into nothing, we have a rare opportunity for a do-over, helping to shift user perception around advertising (it’s not evil, honestly) and create an environment that is fundamentally built on privacy, trust and transparency.

As our dependency on the ‘sweet stuff’ lessons and we look for a more sustainable alternative, take some consolation that we’re all in this together. And now for some tough love: It’s time to get your hand out of the cookie jar… there’s nothing left for you in there.

By Ayman Haydar
Chief Executive Officer, MMP World Wide