4 Industry Experts on the SPARROW Proposal and Privacy Sandbox

Jane O'Hara
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Earlier this month, Criteo submitted a new proposal to the W3C (Worldwide Web Consortium) in response to Google’s Privacy Sandbox initiative.

Criteo’s SPARROW (Secure Private Advertising Remotely Run On Webserver) offers an alternative to Google’s TURTLEDOVE (Two Uncorrelated Requests, Then Locally-Executed Decision On Victory).

Whereas TURTLEDOVE would put ad auction logic and targeting by interest groups or site context inside the browser with delayed reporting, SPARROW proposes putting auction logic and user data under control of an independent third-party “Gatekeeper” service (one unaffiliated with advertisers or ad tech vendors) that would allow broader targeting and faster reporting results.

While both frameworks will be tested in the Privacy Sandbox by Google’s Chrome and Ads teams over the coming months, SPARROW has been sparking conversations and tweets (most notably Paul Bannister’s May 8 thread) and making headlines over the past two weeks.

We reached out to four industry leaders for their thoughts on whether Criteo's SPARROW — or another centralized, independent gatekeeper — might serve publishers' needs.


Ari Paparo, Beeswax
Ari is the CEO of Beeswax, a New-York based start-up building the next generation of real-time bidding software

“The initial sandbox proposals have some critical limitations that would hurt their usefulness and probable adoption. SPARROW takes some steps to solve these. Notably, instead of complex ad logic being executed on the browser, this burden could be moved to a neutral third-party. Increasing the frequency of data response to advertisers is also a key benefit.”


Maja Milicevic, Sparrow Advisers
Maja is a co-founder of Sparrow Advisers, a global strategic management consultancy bringing deep operational expertise to solve strategic and tactical objectives of companies in and around the ad tech and mar tech space

“TURTLEDOVE, Google's current privacy framework proposal, and its predecessor stipulate that much of the decisioning logic should happen at the browser level — which works well if, like Google, you own a popular browser.

From a publisher perspective, a hypothetical independent centralized clearinghouse "The Gatekeeper" as proposed by SPARROW is an appealing conceptual architecture that more closely mirrors how third-party cookies function today (just without the cookie part). Such an architecture would in theory enable publishers to continue operating the way they do today, with less interruption to how their sales teams sell or what types of targeting campaigns and insights can be offered to clients.

While we're in the realm of the hypothetical, an interesting enhancement for publishers would be the ability to see buyer interest groups so that they can package their inventory and audience differently as well as inform their content strategy. This, however, is specifically not supported by either TURTLEDOVE or SPARROW. Moving the logic from browser to independent gatekeeper on the surface may seem less disruptive and in the interest of publishers, but the burning question here for me is: where is the consumer in all of this, while browsers, platforms, and publishers duke out technical details among themselves?”


James Avery, Adzerk
James is the founder and CEO at Adzerk, an API platform that enables brands to build custom ad servers

“The challenge with SPARROW, that many were quick to point out, is who would run the Gatekeeper? They suggest it's something cloud providers would be interested in doing — but are privacy-conscious users going to trust Amazon, Google, and Microsoft with their data?

SPARROW is interesting, but it doesn't accomplish the goals set out by TURTLEDOVE and other privacy initiatives, to keep my information in the browser where I can control it.”


Andy Sharkey, CafeMedia
Andy is the Director of Product Management at CafeMedia, a digital media company that supports nearly 2,000 high-quality content creators

"SPARROW challenges the TURTLEDOVE methodology that privacy compliance can only be achieved by a browser dominated advertising future. It embraces certain functions of the privacy sandbox, but asserts that additional advertising functions can operate outside of it (server-side) to maintain key advertising use cases (such as near-real time feedback for buyer campaigns, A/B testing, ad safety/brand safety, among others).

SPARROW is an early proposal that will require iteration, and there are open questions on how best to maintain the same level of privacy protection as was introduced in the privacy sandbox. Still, it’s a compelling start given its direction towards an ecosystem owned, rather than exclusively browser owned, future. As we’ve seen with solutions like Prebid.js, marketers and publishers alike thrive when a transparent, open architecture is embraced."

Will Criteo’s SPARROW fly?

Now we’d like to hear what you think. Is SPARROW — or another avian-inspired privacy proposal — the best replacement for third-party cookies? Who else should play in the Privacy Sandbox? How would one go about picking the independent gatekeeper?

Click the link to share your thoughts on SPARROW (and any other data privacy initiatives) with the Ad.Product community on LinkedIn.

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Jane O'Hara

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