Media must focus on first-party data regardless of Google delays

By Ariane Bernard


New York, Paris


Editor’s note: Ariane Bernard is the new lead of the INMA Smart Data Initiative. She has identified three tentpoles of the initiative this year: personalisation, acquiring and using first-party data, and accelerating the change toward a data-strong organisation. If you would like to subscribe to her bi-weekly newsletter, INMA members can do so here.

The recent news that Google was moving to another approach for its post-cookie advertising targeting framework (we went from FLoC — Federated Learning of Cohorts — to the Topics API) was met with as many Twitter hot takes as questions. 

This illustrates something about where our post-cookie world may be headed: We know we’re going there, but even Google isn’t quite sure how to get there without massively impacting certain business corners of the Internet (as well as its own business). 

As Google keeps changing its mind on the future of post-cookie advertising, the exact path and timing remain unclear.
As Google keeps changing its mind on the future of post-cookie advertising, the exact path and timing remain unclear.

For publishers, we rely on cookies not just for ad revenue. We also are more and more dependent on our ability to track a user as they journey and habituate in our products. Our usage of third-party data is for our immediate profit (ads), and our usage of first-party is for our long-term benefit — and a better experience for our users. 

The billion-dollar question is: How do we transition to acquiring and leveraging first-party data in places where we relied on third-party data to which we may have less access in the future? 

There is also the question of how user expectations for their experience with us are changing: How they are tracked or not? What is their expectation for being able to exercise their choice in the matter? 

To put it in the words of a publisher to me last month, “Is the data yours because it happened on your site, or does it belong to the user because she is the one who made these interaction decisions?”

The regulation pressure around our collection, usage, and protection of user data is something we need to learn to weave into our data strategies — both to remain compliant but to also to anticipate where we may see regulator-imposed changes to what we do. 

The European Union’s GDPR was an important fog horn, but after California, the U.S. may see some regulatory changes of the same order: Massachusetts has a bill moving along that has echoes of California’s legislation, and further changes like the (forever work-in-progress) rewriting of the European ePrivacy legislation may cause further pressure in our businesses.

While these topics always look like they are territory-specific, there is a certain arc of history that seems to bend the trend toward data privacy as the default paradigm for our products. And for many of our digital businesses that operate across multiple geographies, we generally want to have one global approach to data privacy so we don’t create an incredibly complex technical or legal burden. 

This, in the end, means that observing where these trends are taking us — or how organisations located in geographies that have been affected earlier by these changes — can provide useful learnings for all of us.

If you’d like to subscribe to my bi-weekly newsletter, INMA members can do so here.

About Ariane Bernard

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