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Deep Dive 3 Aug 2021 - 6 min read

Non-transparent black box approaches to data and ID could bring down brands and publishers: Narrative CEO Nick Jordan’s survival guide to life after cookies – if Google actually kills them

By Paul McIntyre & Brendan Coyne
Nick Jordan, founder and CEO of Narrative I/O

Narrative CEO Nick Jordan: "Having a data broker create a solution around identity and say it's going to fix all of the privacy problems just doesn't make any sense."

As brands, publishers and the digital supply chain grapple with first party data and ways to transact customer and audience data without compromising data, privacy and incoming regulation that will govern both, there is a real risk of repeating the same mistakes. At worst, some 'black box' data and ID solutions risk regulatory non-compliance and pollution of entire data pools, warns Nick Jordan, founder of New York-based data streaming platform Narrative I/O. The former Adobe and Yahoo exec thinks the current crop of alternatives probably won't cut it, but brands and publishers must make a choice – provided they fully understand their data strategy may ultimately be an entirely new business. But he's not convinced that Google will sunset cookies altogether, nor that Apple is entirely altruistic.

What you need to know:

  • As the adtech world attempts to switch en masse from third party cookies to first party models, some players risk making fundamental mistakes with data, identity and transparency, warns Nick Jordan, New York-based founder and CEO of data streaming platform Narrative I/O and former Adobe and Yahoo exec.
  • He warns brands and publishers to be wary of data brokers now claiming they can provide privacy-compliant first party ID solutions.
  • Unless those identifiers are fully transparent – and brands and publishers can prove their provenance and consumer consent all the way through the chain – regulators will take a dim view. Outsourcing responsibility won’t cut it, says Jordan.
  • Jordan is increasingly doubtful Google will actually fully sunset cookies. But if it does, he’s not yet seen any alternative ID solution that looks like a viable long-term replacement.
  • But he says publishers and brands must ultimately make a choice – and be prepared to change if it proves to be wrong – as no decision is the worst decision.
  • Meanwhile, Jordan says Apple’s privacy push is all about profit, and thinks tracking opt-in rates will remain low by Apple’s design.

If I had to bet, I would say that Google is probably not going to completely get rid of the cookie. They're going to replace it with something that looks more akin to its Android advertising ID in the mobile ecosystem.

Nick Jordan, founder and CEO, Narrative I/O

If cookies culled, no adequate replacements yet

Cookies may have been granted a reprieve but there is still everything to play for in identity, as a flock of ad tech providers touting avian-themed ID solutions aim to dominate the post-cookie pecking order. The irony, says Nick Jordan, is that those solutions may become more personal – and more intrusive – than cookies.

“We may go from using an anonymous set of characters that are represented by cookies in your browser to using your first name, last name and postal address to actually identify people across devices and across publishers,” says Jordan.

But he’s part of a growing cohort of ad and tech industry execs not wholly convinced that Google will entirely sunset third party cookies, despite repeated public statements to the contrary.

“If I had to bet – and I do like to do a little bit of gambling – I would say that Google is probably not going to completely get rid of the cookie. They're going to replace it with something that looks more akin to its Android advertising ID in the mobile ecosystem,” he says.

In the meantime, the market is scrambling to build identity solutions, with agencies, adtech providers and data companies attempting to reinvent themselves as ID providers – with wares that can circumnavigate incoming privacy regulation.

While early days in Australia, UID2.0, the open source ID system driven by The Trade Desk, alongside Live Ramp’s ID solution, are the two making most headway.

But Jordan, who built what became Adobe’s DMP and subsequently spent two years as product management director, claims he’s not yet seen anything that he backs as an enduring solution.

“Again, as a betting person, I would say the walled gardens win. As a hedge, I would say the solution that's going to win if it's not the walled gardens hasn't been created yet.”

He thinks UID2.0 is perhaps closer to a viable solution than others. While the IAB has thrown some weight behind UID2.0 – which is primarily built on hashed email IDs and aims to work in sync with other industry solutions – Jordan thinks industry bodies could do more to steer the ship.

“Frankly, it would be ideal to have some standards – and non-commercial standards – to actually get us there. I think the things that the Trade Desk is doing are fairly well received, because it's open source… [versus] companies like Live Ramp that are effectively trying to monetise their identity layer largely because of their existing place in the ecosystem. People are looking at that and saying ‘do we really want to and we really want to tie ourselves to these types of technologies?’” suggests Jordan.

“Fundamentally, I think there needs to be something closer to a standard … Putting it in the hands of someone that's trying to commercialise it I think is ultimately counterproductive.”


When a regulator turns up on your door and says, ‘how are you doing identity, where did [those IDs] come from?’ Saying ‘I don't know, I outsourced it to someone else and I don't know the answer to your questions’, is a shitty answer.

Nick Jordan, founder and CEO, Narrative I/O

We think of data as an offshoot of media, or related to media, or a value add on top of media. But publishers should be thinking about data businesses as completely orthogonal to their media business – go and build a data business.

Nick Jordan, founder and CEO, Narrative I/O

Publishers: create separate data businesses

There is genuine fear of data and audience ‘leakage’ as publishers and brands grapple with identity solutions. Is there a risk of a repeat of the audience data heist carried out by ad networks and early programmatic players?

“Possibly,” says Jordan. “Data is complex because once someone has their hands on it, they can make an infinite number of copies; it's not it's not something that's easy to police outside of contracts and agreements. That being said, I think one of the big mistakes being made is we tie data too closely to media,” he adds.

“We think of data as an offshoot of media, or related to media, or a value add on top of media. But publishers should be thinking about data businesses as completely orthogonal to their media business – maybe somewhat related – but go and build a data business.”

Whereas it’s unlikely any of the ad tech players can build “a better advertising mousetrap” than Google or Facebook, Jordan says he thinks the SSPs could help publishers could do a far better job of monetising data – provided both the ad platforms and publishers think beyond media.

“That could be through advertising, it could be through data, through merchandise, through events, it could be through other value added services,” says Jordan. “That's an interesting play: ‘I'm going to be a monetisation platform for publishers and not tie that monetisation entirely to marketing and media’. I think that’s ultimately where everyone has to go.”

In the meantime, says Jordan, publishers should “take back their data strategies and give their data a brand” if they are serious about making money out of it.


No ID decision the worst decision

For now, brands and publishers should simply make a decision on which data and ID horses they are going to back, suggests Jordan.

Australia’s publishers are testing the water – but most are so far yet to commit, beyond their own proprietary first party IDs.

“A decision is better than no decision – make a choice,” says Jordan. “If you're wrong, be ready to change your choice, or if the market all chooses something and the impact is that another walled garden controls a big part of the ecosystem, then the market has chosen. Life is full of uncertainty … we have just lived through 18 months of uncertainty, but we make decisions and we move forward.”

There's no mistaking Apple's motives. They want people to buy more stuff in their app store and if an app is ad supported, Apple doesn't see any of that revenue.

Nick Jordan, founder and CEO, Narrative I/O

Calling “bullshit” on Apple

While Google’s cookie deprecation delay may have given the digital world more time to mull those ID decisions, Apple’s continued tracking offensive has publishers, digital marketers and its rivals, chiefly Facebook, scrambling for solutions.

But Jordan thinks it’s all about money, not privacy – and he thinks opt-in rates for tracking on iOS devices (now about 14 per cent in the US for apps that have displayed the prompt) will not get any better, because Apple has designed it that way.

“There's no mistaking why Apple's doing it. They want people to buy more stuff in their app store and if an app is ad supported, Apple doesn't see any of that revenue,” with app developers more likely to move to a paid app model if they can’t make as much money in an ad-supported model following the iOS update, says Jordan. Whereas Apple takes 30 per cent of revenue within the app store.

“That’s a great PR team: ‘There’s a thing we want to do, it sounds anti-competitive – let’s make it sound like we’re benefitting consumers, that’s a great message!’. It’s all bullshit,” says Jordan. “They build their phones in China. They store their data, their Chinese users’ data in China and give the keys to the Chinese government. They don't give a rat's ass about privacy.”

Jordan also thinks tracking opt-in rates are also unlikely to climb much beyond current figures, because, he suggests, the question being put to iPhone users is deliberately intended to drive opt-outs.

“I don't think the response rates have anything to do with an informed consumer or informed intent or choice,” says Jordan. “They are A-B tested: ‘What is the best way to get people to say no to this question? Let's put that front and centre and then let's people ask people over and over and over’. And it's not surprising at all that people ultimately opt out of it.”

At which point, Jordan stops, for fear of “Tim Cook disconnecting my iPhone.”

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