Apple first introduced Intelligent Tracking Protection (ITP) in 2017, but the latest update (2.1) creates a new set of challenges for advertisers, publishers, and tech vendors that make money from online behavioral advertising (OBA), attribution, web analytics, testing, and personalization. With new reports that Google may be following suit, we decided it was time to answer some common questions about tracker blocking.

What Is ITP 2.1?

Apple announced ITP 2.1 in February 2019; it applies to iOS 12.2 and Safari 12.1. It is the latest release of ITP, which Apple first introduced in 2017 to limit cross-screen tracking by degrading third-party cookies after 30 days. After a few iterations, ITP 2.1 introduces a new set of measures: Safari purges most first-party cookies after seven days and blocks all third-party cookies by default, rendering device fingerprinting and long-tail measurement nearly impossible.

If ITP 2.1 sounds harsh, it’s meant to be. Apple explains in its blog post that one of the reasons for the update is that vendors were using redirects to masquerade as first-party cookies. And ITP aligns with Apple’s positioning as a protector of consumer privacy (see its latest privacy-centric ad campaign). Apple isn’t alone, either: Brave Browser and Firefox also block third-party trackers by default.

What Does ITP Mean For Marketers?

ITP 2.1 will likely disrupt marketers’ core efforts to track, analyze, measure, target, and personalize for Safari users. Let’s unpack this:

  • Web analytics will lose accuracy because a site visitor will be forgotten after seven days, thus inflating the number of unique visitors that a marketer sees on her website. This inflation could impact how marketers develop content and promotions.
  • A/B testing will suffer as marketers will have a small opportunity to obtain insights. A/B tests will only have a seven-day window to test content and track results. Customers that visit sites less than weekly will be considered new visitors and could be pooled into a different testing group, resulting in inaccurate A/B tests.
  • Data management platforms (DMPs) may see an inflated number of mobile devices because the episodic cookie purges will create new identifiers for mobile devices that aren’t new. This will exaggerate audience sizes and may impact how audiences are created. Marketers risk building audience segments based on outdated or incomplete data.
  • Personalization will also suffer. Non-authenticated sites that leverage personalization tools based on past behaviors and preferences to create consistent customer experiences will not have historical data to personalize content. Because of this, customers will have inconsistent web experiences.
  • Attribution will be harder to execute. With a shortened lookback window, marketers can’t attribute conversions that occur more than seven days after the user’s last site visit. Marketers will misattribute credit to campaigns and credit the last marketing touch too highly, running the risk of overspending on ineffective channels.

What Does ITP Mean For Publishers?

Publishers stand to benefit from ITP — if they can get their visitors to create accounts. Because authentication cookies are secure, they are immune to these changes, so publishers will be able to track their logged-in readers past the seven-day window. This will make publishers’ first-party data even more valuable, as long as they offer a clear benefit to readers, such as access to exclusive content or additional free articles, in exchange for registering.

How Did We Get Here?

Apple, Brave, and Firefox build their tracker-blocking capabilities to protect consumers’ privacy. Data breaches and privacy incidents, such as the Equifax data breach and Cambridge Analytica privacy scandal, have taught consumers that companies (many of whom they’d never heard of) are collecting, storing, and sharing data about them. As privacy regulations continue to roll out — the California Consumer Privacy Act goes into effect next year, and many other states have introduced their own privacy bills — tech companies are beginning to differentiate on their privacy posture. Apple is turning to privacy as a means of separating itself from the Facebook/Google/Amazon data oligopoly.

What Should Advertisers Do In Response?

Estimate the potential impact of tracking protection features by: 1) reviewing how much of your site traffic comes from Safari or Firefox and 2) measuring the average time between user visits to your site. Advertisers with significant numbers of Safari visitors need to work with their vendors and analytics experts to determine tracker blocking’s impact on all marketing efforts, specifically looking for overinflation of return on ad spend (ROAS).

Advertisers should be wary of vendors that claim to have workarounds. As ITP’s multiple iterations have shown, adtech vendors are in a game of cat and mouse with browsers, and updates to ITP have already rendered previous workarounds ineffective. It’s also worth noting that ITP 2.1 removes support for a Do Not Track (DNT) setting because, previously, websites ignored that setting entirely if consumers turned DNT on. Browsers tried to give consumers a privacy-friendly option and sites didn’t comply, so Apple, Brave, and Firefox created a mechanism where compliance isn’t optional.

Feel free to set up an inquiry with Tina Moffett and/or Fatemeh Khatibloo for a deeper dive on third-party cookie blocking and its implications.