• Tom Riordan

The Anonymous Internet

[Originally posted July 30, 2021 on LinkedIn and Medium]

Most internet users cannot be targeted or measured on a 1:1 basis.


The date was June 23rd, 2021, and the digital advertising world was right on schedule to eventually fall apart. The deprecation of 3rd parties cookies in Chrome — the most popular web browser globally — would come at year’s end. Most of us were feeling quite underprepared, with few advertisers reporting successful migrations to other solutions that could help us kick our old habit.


But when we woke on June 24th — the story goes — that pressure was graciously lifted. Thanks largely to regulatory pressure, Google postponed the removal of 3rd party cookies from Chrome to the end of 2023, and in turn we went back to the cookie jar per usual. Since the level of precision and measurement offered by cookie-based targeting exceeds that of many alternatives (e.g. contextual targeting), it makes sense to continue to invest here. However, there is a dirty half-secret known to those in the weeds of today’s cookie-based advertising: there are a lot of users inaccessible by cookies alone — right now, this second — regardless of what happens in the future with Chrome. How many? Enough to give them a name. Here’s my best current estimate to quantify The Anonymous Internet:


As a simple proxy for users with cookies disabled, I’ll add up the market share in the US of browsers with cookies disabled by default:


  • +36.5% due to Apple Safari ITP (2019)

  • +3.5% due to Mozilla Firefox ETP (2019)

  • +6.5% due to Microsoft Edge/IE Tracking Prevention (2020)

  • +2% due to Samsung Internet Smart Anti-Tracking (2019)


The Addressable Internet then is:


  • +48.5% Chrome

  • +1% Opera


This means nearly half of web users are likely to be cookieless already today! Advertisers who rely heavily on cookies will find themselves limited in their ability to hit reach goals in this sort of web environment.


In addition to the reach opportunity present in targeting The Anonymous Internet, it stands to reason there may also substantial cost savings to be found here as well. Since advertiser competition is greater for Addressable users than Anonymous ones, Anonymous users can be reached at a significant discount.


This was observed by Ad tech infrastructure providers BidSwitch, who investigated the trend in their 2019 Programmatic Insights report using two different strategies:


1. Compare the clearing costs of auctions without a user ID present (i.e. Anonymous) vs. those with a user ID present (i.e. Addressable):


2. Compare the clearing costs of Safari auctions, which disables 3rd party cookies by default, vs. Chrome auctions which enables cookies by default:


As we can see in both methodologies: Anonymous users are nearly 2x cheaper than Addressable ones, likely due to less competition from advertisers. This means brands can get twice the value per dollar spent on Anonymous ads than on Addressable ads. For certain niche advertisers this trade-off of targeting vs. efficiency may be unfavorable. But for mass reach brands, the efficient reach opportunity in targeting Anonymous Users may be the difference between millions of potential consumers seeing your ads or not.


Now it’s worth noting that this efficiency boost will disappear once the playing field is leveled and the bidding war over Addressable users subsides. But given the Chrome extension, the playing field may be imbalanced for several more years — meaning the best time to add cookieless to your digital mix is not in 2024, but today.


Sticking to vegetables,

Tom