Thought Leadership

The Questionable Future of IDFA Reinforces the Need for First-Party, Community-Driven Identity Solutions

June 25, 2020
By Tom Kershaw, CTO, Rubicon Project

The transformation of how user identification and privacy work in the digital economy has been underway for several months now. The way in which the digital advertising industry collectively held its breath leading up to Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference, at which it was expected to restrict or eliminate IDFA, is the latest sign that a new identity model is necessary. Rubicon Project, recently merged with Telaria, has been working with others for many months on a new identity model across all media types — desktop, mobile app, CTV and more. We are moving rapidly towards a future in which consumers are empowered and publishers can take control of creating and managing a healthy, open Internet.

While restrictions on, or the complete elimination of, IDFA (and ultimately Android ID as well) could present some short-term challenges, as an industry we are well-positioned to manage this transition. In fact, we expect the long-term effects of these changes will work to the advantage of independent publishers, given the scale and strength of buyer and seller relationships — as well as the continued growth of

Unifying Identity Across All Screens

When it comes to cross-screen identity, let’s first level set on where the industry is today. Advertising on iOS devices is a significant part of our industry — iOS commands more than a quarter of the global mobile operating system market worldwide — but it is only one of several ways consumers access the digital economy. Our industry has seen these changes for several years, as spend shifts away from PCs and web browsers towards a much more diverse array of devices, including mobile devices but also CTV devices, smart speakers, and many others. So, iOS is significant, but it’s certainly not the largest or only way publishers monetize content. Traditionally, each of these formats has had entirely different identity standards — cookies on browsers, IDFAs on mobile devices, and a hodgepodge of uncoordinated identifiers on CTV devices.

With the changes to identity that started several years ago, we are moving towards more commonly used identifiers across device types. As that happens, the industry is moving closer to a model that’s based on consumer choice and publisher control.

Putting Control Back in Publishers’ Hands

Why should publishers have control of identity? Because they have a direct relationship with the consumer and are uniquely positioned to ensure their needs are fully incorporated into the identity relationship. In a nutshell, this shift means that instead of publishers passing identifiers to buyers, who then create targetable groups of consumers, publishers will create those segments on their own platforms, before then passing these anonymized segments to buyers.

We have been actively working with publishers on first-party solutions in preparation for changes to existing identity frameworks to minimize disruptions. We continue to work with publishers to create privacy-centric first-party data models and expose those to buyers in standardized ways. should play a key role in that process by standardizing formats and practices for identity, and ensuring they work across the widest possible range of buyers, sellers, and intermediary platforms. As the lifespan of IDFA and similar identity models are in question, the industry is making progress on establishing new collaborative, open-source identity and privacy protocols, and we are confident that we will continue to effectively monetize across all screens and formats well into the future.

For more info about what Rubicon Project is doing to address the identity challenge, reach out to us at

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