THE BLOG

Cookies: What Can We Learn From the Google and Apple Approach?

05/12/2013 15:14 GMT | Updated 03/02/2014 10:59 GMT

Cookies have been on the receiving end of a great deal of bad press recently. Most recently, it is rumoured that Google plans to replace cookies with a tracking technology called AdID, which has sent the debate about the future of cookies into overdrive. If the source is true - as details on the technology is yet to be released by Google - how exactly will the company implement its plan? Will it look to Apple, an early pioneer of cookie-less ID tracking, for a roadmap? Or follow the approach it took with Android? Both industry giants have learnt a considerable amount from their forays into cookie alternatives, so what can we learn from their experiences?

The evolution of the Apple UDID (Unique Device Identifier) has been a rocky one. It initially sparked several new companies and third-party services, crucially in the form of apps that used the UDID to collect and monetise user data. When Apple realised that it was not receiving any of this revenue and consumers began seriously questioning how their data was being handled, it made the decision in March 2012 to begin blocking all apps that utilised its functionality. But the final nail in the coffin came when it was reported that the hacker group AntiSec published 1 million UDIDs they claimed came from an FBI laptop, with a reported 11m more available. By March of 2013, new apps that use UDIDs were phased out all together.

The alternative put forward by Apple was the Identifier For Advertising (IDFA), which protects user information by allowing Apple to create a higher level of privacy for its first-party data, while still allowing other companies to utilise the iOS platform for their business. In this scenario, Apple still has a significant competitive advantage over those third-party companies since it controls the platform completely and can easily combine it with its first-party data. Indeed, iOS 7 was seen as a further push towards advertisers using Apple's own ad technology.

Google also took a similar approach when creating an ID on its android devices. Like Apple, Google used its Gmail/Google account information to overlay its first-party information. This approach also provided Google with a significant advantage over other advertisers since it can easily link together a vast amount of first-party data, cross-device information, etc.

However, Google did not explicitly attempt to block or prevent developers from using its unique identifiers. In fact, Google actively supported the use of its android-based ID as a way to increase adoption and quell any potential anti-trust issues. In this way - and because Google did not see third parties as a threat to its core advertising business - it could retain its advantage with first-party data while helping build its brand to make it the mammoth player it is today. By enabling a unified identifier across their respective platforms, Google and Apple were able to monetise their respective platforms and this, on the face of it, seems to be a necessary evolution for those vying for control over advertising revenue.

What will be interesting is the way in which Google's proposed AdID develops, if at all. Will it follow the initial approach favoured by Apple in restricting third parties, or decide that it was correct in its approach with Android and see providing access as necessary to support its other businesses.

The fact that Apple did eventually change its position to provide third parties with access may suggest that the Android approach was the correct one. Although, given how desirable and business-changing first-party data has become since the early days of both Apple and Google, it remains to be seen just what will unfold if the rumours are true. The balance of power of our tech giants could be about to shift once more.