The basics of the new Apple Intelligent Tracking Prevention (ITP)

Analytics ,Cookies ,Data
February 13, 2018

Apple Logo

Back in June of 2017, Apple held its WWDC event and announced the release of High Sierra, the latest desktop operating system which was eventually rolled out a few months later, September 25th. The High Sierra release included a feature called Intelligent Tracking Prevention (ITP) designed to protect users’ browsing data on Safari. ITP works to reduce cross site tracking by limiting cookies and other website data across desktop devices. This is indicative of the greater trend in the industry around protecting user’s data privacy and expands a previous release of Safari that blocked all third-party cookies on mobile. Following up to the original announcement, Apple had already released iOS11 where ITP is now in effect as of September 19th.

What change has Apple made in the next version of Safari?
Safari’s market share is 14.9% globally, according to data from StatCounter. While globally iOS is dwarfed by Android, Safari accounts for a little under half of all mobile web traffic in North America and a quarter in Europe, according to StatCounter. Here is how ITP will work:

  1. Artificial intelligence algorithms will consider how often a user interacts with specific websites in order to categorize cookies
  2. In the first 24 hours after a user visits a particular website, all third-party cookies are supported: A user might see ads for an item immediately after viewing the item online per the intention of cross-site tracking third-party cookies
  3. Post 24 hours, Safari will partition cookies so that those that are solely tracking browsing behavior (not enabling single sign-on) are disabled
  4. After 30 days, regardless of the cookie context, Safari purges ALL cookies and users will need to re-login to any sites

Of course, ITP can be disabled by users should they want to opt in to be tracked.

Why did Apple making the change now?
Apple’s stance has always been specifically around supporting a better user experience according to official comments from them and in mainstream media. They believe that ITP will remove irrelevant advertising that a consumer does not want and that a 24-hour window is sufficient time for a business to convince a consumer of an offer or message utilizing digital advertisements. Many advertising trade organizations feel otherwise, as it will be counter to the user experience and will disallow advertisers from making informed decisions on what types of advertisements are relevant and appropriate. They feel strongly that the 24-hour window is not sufficient to address the concerns and gain opt-in from the consumer.

What is Intelligent Tracking prevention (ITP)?
Remember, ITP was first introduced June this year during the WWDC in San Jose, and on the Apple Webkit blog. It is a feature for both iOS11 and macOS that partially blocks the use of cookies – as mentioned earlier, third party cookie tracking after a 24-hour time window. Apple explained that ITP uses machine-learning techniques to understand the sites and platforms that are actively tracking user behavior and site activity across domains. Apple’s goal with ITP was to limit the ability for advertisers to track, and use consumer data across their Safari In short, if a user does not convert within 24 hours of last visiting a site after clicking on an ad, there could be some gray area in attributing the eventual conversion correctly.

What is the advertising industry doing about this?
Six trade groups comprised of leading digital advertising and marketing industries, the Interactive Advertising Bureau, American Advertising Federation, the Association of National Advertisers, the 4A’s and two others, are actively lobbied Apple, to no avial, to convince them that integration of the new cookie-blocking technology will severely impact the user experience.

How will it affect advertising and marketing?
Based on discussions with various marketing leaders across a range of sectors, I’ve learned that the impact of the change will not be significant with regards to third Party data, since third party cookies are not accepted on Safari by default. This does change things for first party cookies – essentially limiting a publisher’s 1st party targeting capabilities, unless a user is logged in or identifies themselves.
I recommend keeping an eye on your analytics including monitoring Apple and have regular discussions with your key advertising technology partners to evaluate the impact of future iterations of ITP. I expect many technology platforms and partners will change their attribution models to navigate around ITP.

How are platforms addressing ITP?

    Although many advertising platform partners will experience little to no impact because of ITP, I have reach out to them for assurances and/or how they will address the issue. Here are a few as an example:

  • Integral Ad Science: Since this data is collected in real-time no major change expected in this arena.
  • Google: Google is taking an opportunity to highlight the need for their Analytics solution while also providing a stopgap by bringing modeling for conversion data that is no longer trackable. Their platforms will set their cookies to the advertiser’s domain allowing the cookie to persist for tracking purposes.
  • Facebook: They have shifted to people based measurement and as a result even their new Facebook Audience Network, a third party marketplace, they see no impact to any media or initiatives managed with their product suite.

What should you be aware of in regards to the tracking change?
Headlines have read that Safari will stop ad tracking – this in fact is not true. While ITP will modify how and when cookies will be reported, the data will still be collected. The data however will be limited to users who are frequent visitors of websites. Ultimately, the impact of this change appears to be minimal, however, we expect to monitor and share progress in future updates.

I hope this FAQ was helpful, of course, I’d love any data on this subject and will make clarifications and edits as I receive them. These will be inserted and flagged for readers.

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