What is a Universal ID?

sovrnmarketing // February 11, 2021

In other posts, we’ve explained that because of the approaching death of third-party cookies, the pendulum of power is shifting to publishers that collect and activate their first-party and contextual data. In this post, we’ll give an overview of the Universal ID (UID), an alternative to the cookie, and some answers to pressing publisher questions: What is a Universal ID? How is it not a cookie? And how can you start using them?

Although the importance of collecting and activating your first-party and contextual data from your properties cannot be overstated, there is a problem of scale. The largest online publishers, with millions of unique monthly visitors, have begun to capitalize on alternative revenue streams to programmatic advertising such as subscriptions and data sales. Not all of these strategies are available to every publisher. So, the question remains: without third-party cookies, how will regular publishers ensure that relevant advertisers continue to spend on their inventory when they lack traditional methods of targeting, frequency capping and attribution? Adopting a UID offers one alternative.

What is a Universal ID?

A UID is a persistent, anonymous, and shared identifier that can be created with first-party data to recognize user identity across the web. Although this may sound eerily familiar to the functionality of third-party cookies, there are some major differences that make UIDs a privacy-centric and transparent solution for a free, open web. 

First, in order for a UID to work, a reader must consent to share their information through some form of authentication (sign-up) through which they willingly share their email address or other personally-identifiable information. Unlike third-party cookies, UIDs can work across devices (e.g. web, in-app, CTV), which means a UID could portray a more complete picture of user behavior than a cookie. For example, you may not consume the same content on your smart TV as you do on your mobile phone or your laptop. That unification of data makes the UID appealing.

Furthermore, a UID doesn’t burden websites with a latency-inducing sync process, which has long been a bane of publishers. And finally, because the information is provided by readers themselves, relevant advertisers can be more confident in who they should and should not target, thus providing your audience with a better experience.

Although there are other solutions under construction that seek to help with the issues of scale (W3C’s Web Advertising Business Group & the Privacy Sandbox), UIDs are working to solve the issues of scale—plus, they exist (in abundance) today. 

The UID marketplace

Fortunately, in order to make use of UIDs all you have to do is adopt those that align with your priorities. Unfortunately, there is no straightforward answer to which solution(s) are right for you amongst the ever-growing list of UIDs out there. 

There are some actions you can take, however, to get closer to finding which UIDs make sense for you.

  • Talk to similar publishers to see which UIDs are working for them.
  • Make sure the UID’s are supported by your technology stack. For Prebid publishers, UIDs that have a Prebid User ID module (see below) are a great place to start.
  • Ensure the UIDs functionality does not rely solely upon third-party cookies, as these will likely not work in the long-term
  • Look for interoperability – UIDs that work with and compound upon one another, they may have more coverage 
  • UIDs often come with contractual requirements. Make sure you are comfortable with the tems 

If you are currently using Prebid as your header bidding solution, you already have access to their User ID Module. This enables various UIDs to pass effectively through the bidstream. You can find an overview of which UIDs the module currently supports and how to implement it here.

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