Kristofer Doerfler

Planning Supervisor and Media Ethicist

As our society balances consumer privacy and the commercial use of data, the final nail in the coffin for third party cookies might be forthcoming, with Google discontinuing their use across Chrome in 2022. Google also plans to eliminate some other forms of tracking such as fingerprinting, cache inspection, and network level tracking techniques. Consumer privacy has often been seen as an obstacle to better consumer learnings, however it should instead be viewed as a window to more authentic consumer insights and healthier brand-to-consumer interactions.

A brand’s need to consider what a cookie-less world will look like is the perfect inflection point to proactively embrace innovative privacy-enhancing technologies to get out ahead of future privacy laws and requirements, technology changes, while helping to restore consumer trust. So how does a brand do this? 

  1. Exemplify the stance that digital privacy is a human right including the belief that all people should be entitled to the ability protect and control the flow of their personal information, and that all data needs to be ethically sourced.  It puts privacy by design behavior at the forefront of innovation discussions and makes consumer transparency involving personal data a paramount concern.  Brands should not just be looking to simply meet current legal requirements, but instead should be pushing the boundary as to how they can empower consumers to have more control over their data and how they can increase the value exchange with consumers in regards to data transactions.
  2. Address misinformation and hate speech.  As events like the January 6, 2021 insurrection show us, misinformation and hate speech have a dramatic impact on our society, but they can also have a highly problematic impact on the quality of the digital ecosystem.  Outrage and fear can be used by bad actors to rapidly push false content, which confuses and harms consumers while greatly reducing the quality of advertising.  Brands should be proactively addressing how their data and advertising activities could be supporting hate speech and should go to great lengths to stamp it out.
  3. Tune your AI for diversity and inclusion. It is no secret these days that algorithmic bias in ad-tech and data management practices can inadvertently lead to racially insensitive and prejudiced decisions[i].  Whether it is marginalized groups being underrepresented due to incomplete data sets or machine-learning systems making inaccurate decisions on account of designer bias, the decisions these machine-based algorithms make have profound impacts on the media decisions brands make.  Therefore, brands should be taking actions to ensure the datasets, algorithms, and decision-makers reflect a diverse society that is inclusive of marginalized groups in a privacy-first way.
  4. Consider environmentalism and how data plays a role.  At first thought, environmentalism might not be top of mind when it comes to properly managing consumer data, however being environmentally conscious with datasets is critical for brands and society at large to meet their sustainability goals.  It is critical for brands to not only be gathering data on consumer’s environmentalism ambitions, but they also need to be evaluating their data management practices and partners on their environmental impact if they are to meet consumer demands.  Brands need to be exploring how to build better environmentally conscious data into their systems because we need environmentally responsible data to make environmentally responsible business decisions.
  5. Continue managing ad fraud and waste. Ad fraud and waste remains rampant in the media ecosystem, with some brands losing as much as 2/3 of their digital media budgets to ad-fraud[ii].  In addition, much of the 3rd party data in the ecosystem is highly inaccurate[iii].  By improving consumer privacy, promoting greater consumer transparency, leaning into more reliable data sources such as first party data, and empowering consumers to have more control of their data, the quality of data will improve because it will be more authentic and consumer-verified.  Since the quantity of data available to brands will continue to expand exponentially in the future, having smaller yet higher quality pools of data to pull from will lead to more accurate decisions by brands.

Brands should not think of the impending cookie-less world as an ominous obstacle, but instead as an opportunity to reorient their data and targeting practices to bring a sustainable ethical lens to all they do, which will in-turn benefit both their customers and their business.


[i] Battling Algorithmic Bias

[ii] How Uber’s Ad Fraud Lawsuit Highlights a Billion-Dollar Brand Problem

[iii] Deloitte Study Reveals Consumer Marketing Data’s Dirty Little Secrets