Google Locks Walled Garden. Hides Your Key.

March 24, 2018

While May 25th marks the start of the Memorial Day Weekend here in the US, it also marks the quiet beginning of the end of Google’s encrypted ID data transfer offering.  

In an announcement last month, Google stated that European-originated user level encrypted IDs will cease populating on May 25th in data transfer files from DoubleClick Campaign Manager and DoubleClick Bid Manager, with the timing to align with the advent of GDPR. Google also stated that this ID data suppression would be subsequently rolled out globally.

Let’s take a momentary pause from the relentless onslaught of privacy policy updates, (also thanks to GDPR) and unpack what this news from Google means and what it doesn’t.

First, What Are (Rather, Were) Encrypted IDs In Data Transfer Files?

Savvy advertisers, agencies and MarTech companies could work with their Google rep to initiate log level reporting of DoubleClick Campaign data to cloud storage buckets populated with ID values. The ID values were encrypted to the specific DoubleClick account and MarTech partner of choice. The IDs could serve as the universal join between ad impressions, clicks and conversions across DoubleClick tracked touch points. Also, the encrypted ID sharing is what enabled server-side handshakes to power additional event-to-graph linking with OnBoarders and DMP solution providers like Neustar, Krux and LiveRamp.

Is This Good Or Bad For Brands?

Some say it’s terrible for brands, and will limit transparency and independent attribution measurement.  There is some truth in this, although the most aggrieved voices tend to be associated with MarTech / AdTech platforms that had invested infrastructure around the data transfer mechanism. Others have more independent measurement capabilities and may even stand to gain as these vendors shuffle their stack.

On the flip side, Google creating more guardrails around the use of encrypted IDs is protective of brands.  It is true that to some degree, black hat actors could have used ID level data in some limited use cases, to join with other data sets that could lead to de-anonymizing of audience data.  Increasing the guardrails limits exposure of a brand conducting or contracting for data analysis that’s not compliant with GDPR standards. In that sense, it’s a benefit to brand safety.

Immediate Impact?

The most immediate impact will be by brands using custom or commercial DMPs and multitouch attribution solutions that leverage data transfer to supplement their own impression/event tracking. If this is the case for you, inquiring with your vendor about the degree of impact to their tracking and measurement abilities is key. In many cases, the encrypted ID data transfer capability is supplemental to tracking, and its removal is a complication rather than the end of reach / frequency measurement.

Who Benefits?

Google, for one.  Although some brands may search for alternatives to ad serving with DoubleClick, the options are few and the challenges to changing are many.  Google will retain its dominance in ad serving and will also see an uptick of interest in its cloud solutions like BigQuery and Ads Data Hub, where brands can import non-Google data and join to event level ad campaign events for aggregated insights.  And of course, the audience segment taxonomies found in Ads Data Hub will map cleanly to other Google products, and sustain a positive feedback loop of Google insights into increased Google media investment.

Thus, Google will still support a third-party ecosystem, but really only allowing for data inflows versus outflows. This will ultimately limit the number of dimensions that advertisers can analyze their data by, and will make brands more reliant on Google’s machine learning capabilities and black box AI.

Separately, Customer Data Platforms (CDP) like Tealium and Signal will benefit as they continue to become more and more essential.  These tools are increasingly the connective tissue joining brand property engagement and the realm of 3rd Party tracking and pixels in the larger MarTech landscape.  As the technology vendor ecosystem shifts still further, keeping up with the changing value propositions and stack components of brand platforms is essential.  And perhaps brands will sense that having all that critical infrastructure solely dependent on another Google offering (Google Tag Manager), makes less sense.

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