Apple's June 2020 announcement that the IDFA would be an opt-in feature for consumers by September's iOS 14 release felt like the rug was pulled from under the 80 billion ad industry, sending marketers into a frenzy to find the next best thing. It's now been over two months, and we're still scratching our heads.
With the recent much-needed postponement until 2021, we as an industry need to use this time effectively to find a new gold standard for gathering consumer data; one that addresses privacy concerns while also being capable of granular targeting. And I believe, across the board, that new standard is the MD5 email hash.
What is MD5?
The MD5 message-digest algorithm is a widely used hash function producing a 128-bit hash value.
Many in the industry are waiting in the wings for Apple's SkAdNetwork and Google Chrome's Privacy Sandbox, but both have numerous disadvantages. Both prevent open commerce as they are closed ecosystems owned and operated by the platforms themselves. If the industry realigns with these ad infrastructures, these tech giants would be able to further monopolize and prevent advancement in the industry unless another more open standard is created.
What is SkAdNetwork?
SKAdNetwork is a framework for privacy-preserving mobile install attribution. It aims to help measure conversion rates of app install campaigns (CPI) without compromising users’ identities.
Additionally, these systems miss out on the biggest value-add for targeting – real-time data. Since notifications of attribution are sent between 24 to 48 hours after the fact, advertisers won't be able to target consumers at the moment they are in-market and won't be able to tie app activity to a particular time, which hinders the usefulness of the data itself.
Besides all these drawbacks, we should not overlook the inherent risks of allowing just two companies to control all of this privacy-related data. This reason alone should be enough for the industry to pause before accepting the proposed solutions by Apple and Google.
To prevent these tech-goliaths from becoming even more powerful gatekeepers to consumers, both advertising and digital marketing industries must stand by a more open solution for identifier data.
Because MD5s are hexadecimal strings transformed from an email address that went through a hashing algorithm, the entire system processes sensitive consumer information down a one-way street that cannot be tied back to the individual. To that end, it is a privacy-focused identifier that can securely link data to create anonymous user profiles but is still able to target ads on a granular level.
Since consumers generally maintain the same primary email address for several years, MD5s have a large map of digital behavior and activity, and therefore, any website, app, or platform that has a registered user base will be able to benefit from stronger data, advertising relationships, and monetization.
A time-tested and proven solution, MD5s, especially in tandem with IP address information, will be the most effective network moving forward in a future without MAIDs. With MD5s, advertisers will be able to reach potential consumers in online communities where users are registered, and that data can then be linked to them in order to build useful, while also anonymous, profiles. If mass adoption occurs, the value of online communities will go up significantly.
What is a MAID?
Mobile Advertising IDs or Mobile Ad IDs: a user-specific, resettable, anonymous identifier associated with the user’s smartphone device and supported by their mobile operating system. MAIDs help developers and marketers identify who is using their app.
The truth is, there is no next best thing, at least not yet. However, the MD5 is a much softer place to land than on Google's or Apple's grounds. We shouldn't have to settle for a closed system to meet privacy needs. Protecting consumer identity and sensitive information is essential, but we also need to be able to cater to users’ needs and serve them information that is relevant to them. Until a new open system is created, let's stick with what we know will work.