Targeting Without Cookies

Most people in the online advertising industry paint any restriction on the use of cookies for ad targeting as a disaster that will inevitably lead to the collapse of the free Internet and with it democracy itself. Underneath the overheated rhetoric that’s really directed at regulators, some startups are questioning the industry’s widespread dependency on legacy targeting systems.

Kikin CEO Carlos Bhola sees the usefulness of cookies, but he’s building a framework for something much different. There are far too many threatening, non-consensual cookies at play today, and the onus to change that should be on most user-centric drivers such as browsers, devices and service providers, in his view. Instead, Kikin operates on the browser level. Its value proposition to users is that it will bring the best of the web to users no matter where they’re surfing The sole purpose of the worst kind of cookies is to push advertising. “I understand the need to have advertising,” Bhola said. “It should be consent driven and it should be managed by and for the user.” The catch to this is direct tracking that advertisers love. This exchange, in Bhola’s view, is much better than the current system of third parties tracking users where the only value returned is better advertising. That’s not exactly compelling for the average person. “If we don’t solve that user problem, there will be a massive user backlash,” Bhola said. There are three rules to follow in this new world, he says: tell the user what information is being used, tell the user who or what entity is going to leverage that data, and always make the user in control of that information. Kikin’s browser extension serves to bring these types of controls and features to the browser. “Browsers have to start to act more on behalf of users than acting on behalf of publishers and advertisers than they do today,” Bhola said. “Browsers are the closest thing to users’ eyes.” Advertisers and publishers have a lot to gain by embracing this change, largely because the effectiveness of dropping cookies to drive brand awareness advertising through display advertising is “crap,” Bhola continued. BlueCava is another company that’s taking on the cookie, although it’s taking a device-centric approach wherein unique identifications are applied to any device that connects to the Internet. “We’re looking at this on the device level. We’re not looking at the user,” said CMO Dean Harris. “We think that devices can be at the center of the data-driven marketing. It gives a publisher or marketer the opportunity to communicate with a device or not.” BlueCava stores anonymized data on each device that it tracks through its code, and though users would have no way of knowing if they’re being tracked, the company allows anyone to opt out of that form of targeting and tracking on its website. With the cooperation of publishers and advertisers, BlueCava can determine if a device is already associated with a specific user’s account number, therefore negating the need or even desire to push any related advertising their way. The code used to connect those dots can be placed inside an application or a website. Marketers know that cookies don’t exist in every case and “publishers don’t have any kind of reference to sell their inventory with any kind of data knowledge behind that,” Harris said. The purpose of BlueCava is to give publishers and consumers better control of content and sequential messaging, he added. While there are efficiencies that can be gained on all sides by moving away from legacy targeting systems, the privacy piece can’t be ignored. There is a clear connection between the ongoing privacy debate and the growing desire to improve targeting overall. Companies like BlueCava and Kikin argue that one can’t be done without the other. New business models are being defined, but there is some philosophy behind this as well. The future of the web is not all about push, Bhola said. “Be upfront about what is actually happening and seek users’ consent for increasing exposure about what users are doing.”