Liveramp Identity Link as a replacement for the third party cookie

Liveramp is a beast. They are the largest player in identity resolution and have been winning for a number of years. There is no true competition to Liveramp. Every company I’ve worked with relies on Liveramp for data onboarding and other features. I’ve personally uploaded 100k+ people’s PII into Liveramp. Their dataset is really the only one that compares to Google or Facebook. But with a major industry shift looming just 1.5 years down the road, how will they fare? Lets take a look how their current products replace the 3p cookie, the drawbacks, and the potential of Google using Chrome to kill Liveramp.

If that last statement alarms you, revisit late 2017 when Criteo’s value tanked by $1.5B after Apple made a little privacy update to iOS. Criteo’s CEO claimed they could “circumvent” Apple privacy update, but the company never recovered. We’re a few years off from the eventual Liveramp v. Google battle though, so I’d expect Liveramp to be better prepared than Criteo was.

Liveramp’s Products

Connect

Liveramp Connect is the product most buy side people are familiar with. An advertiser can upload their CRM list or other customer list (name, address, phone number, etc), have it matched to online profiles, and delivered wherever they need it (usually a dsp or dmp). Even major DMP’s who have a competing feature (cough Bluekai/CX Unity cough) really just whitelabel Liveramp’s product.

This product is what has built Liveramp’s excellent device graph. They have PII from pretty much every internet user, uploaded from many different brands, matched to online profiles. They have years and years worth of this data and really no one else outside of the walled gardens can compete. This product currently converts offline data into cookies and other online IDs, but when online IDs like cookies go away, what happens? 

Identity Link

Identity Link is the other side of the coin. This product is what gathers online IDs from publishers and completes the digital side of the device/people graph. Liveramp built a universal identifier (Liveramp identity link “IDL”, similar to The Trade Desk’s “TDID”) from advertiser’s 1P offline data, and publishers online data. 

The IDL powers liveramp connect, but is also available in most major DSPs for cross-device targeting and attribution. Cookies play a major role in the product currently, but Liveramp wants to move towards an email based solution rather than cookie based. 

In a cookieless world publishers won’t have a way to automatically identify a user when they visit a site, so Liveramp acts as a paywall – requiring a user to sign or enter their email address to access the site. This enables the publisher to identify the user in Liveramp’s device graph, and still use the targeting and attribution tactics that work today. The google icon below achieves the same outcome, but with google’s device graph.

The solution above seemingly replaces third party cookies quite effectively! Without cookies publishers will be forced to adopt a new solution Identity Link Google’s solutions are not even remotely near a reality while this is available right now. Liveramp is and will continue to benefit from a huge first mover advantage

The drawbacks to Identity Link

User Experience

The major drawback to this solution is pretty obvious – it requires users to take action. Just like with paywalls, you will inevitably lose some users who don’t want to share their email address. This is especially true for users who only want to read a single article and aren’t avid readers. If a user is reading reddit/facebook/twitter and is linked to an article like the one above, some will bounce. This new UX will likely be a pain point until users see it more often and get used to it.

I’d also expect to see browser extensions that automate filling out this form, either with real or fake data.

Vendor Competition

With cookies right now, there is no vendor competition. Multiple vendors can access cookies simultaneously. With this email paywall a user can choose to sign on with their email, or another login option like google or facebook – meaning only one vendor has access to user data. This doesn’t pose a problem for the publisher (and is actually a revenue/yield-optimization opportunity), but poses a problem for Liveramp. Many users are already used to signing in with Google or Facebook with a single click, so Liveramp needs to change users’ preferences. I would rather have one click access to the article, rather than having to type out my email anyway.

Despite minor drawbacks, the future looks bright for Liveramp but only if Google allows it.

Will Google kill Liveramp?

Google proactively made the decision to kill off 3P cookies to promote user privacy (and preempt any US based legislation looking to mirror GDPR and CCPA). Part of this plan includes “aggressively combating the current techniques for non-cookie based cross-site tracking” [source]. 

A PII join means taking a piece of personally identifying information like an email address, and joining it with data about that user. Identity Link takes an email address and joins it with Liveramp’s database containing other PII and user behavior data. It would seem that Google won’t allow a solution like Identity Link to work. The precedent exists – Apple’s privacy updates to iOS decimated Criteo. 

Google has two avenues to kill liveramp.

Avenue One: Technical

The first is technical changes to the browser, where Chrome really has free reign to do anything they want. Hypothetically Chrome could identify Liveramp scripts on websites and block them from firing. Precedent exists for this as well! Chrome already blocks scripts that generate pop-ups, malware, and other user-unfriendly tactics. [To be clear the above section is conjecture, I’m not technically adept in browser technology]

Avenue Two: Political

The second avenue is political. If Google successfully builds their privacy focused solutions like Turtledove, they will undoubtedly lobby the US government to enact privacy legislation that makes harvesting and targeting PII illegal. Google has spent about $150 million in lobbying over the past 10 years, and with elections looming that number will increase. This is the venue I’d expect, as the first is pretty anti-competitive, even under the reasoning of promoting privacy.

In Summary

Liveramp has been winning Identity Resolution for years and will certainly win up until Google drops their bombs. If I were to predict the future (don’t quote me) I would expect nothing major to happen until Google starts to release more news around 3P cookies. The industry will then start to worry, spiking Identity Link adoption in mid and late 2021. Google kills the cookie in early 2022 and things look amazing for Liveramp. Google eventually announces they will kill workarounds like universal IDs, or Google will sponsor sweeping privacy legislation. Liveramp will fail to innovate and will fail to counter these moves. Liveramp meets the fate of Criteo, dead (either technically or legally) and disliked by the industry.

But I’m pretty biased against liveramp, so seriously, don’t quote me.

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