Never Mind GDPR, Here Comes Apple’s Intelligent Tracking Protection

Data-Driven Thinking” is written by members of the media community and contains fresh ideas on the digital revolution in media.

Today’s column is written by Alan Chapell, president at Chapell & Associates.

Apple’s soon-to-be released iOS 11 is generating some fairly significant anxiety in ad tech circles due to how Apple’s Safari browser will treat cookies.

The feature, called intelligent tracking prevention (ITP), will bolster Apple’s efforts to block tech companies from capturing browsing data across sites for ad targeting. The feature ensures that cookies are generally only available for a 24-hour window after the user has visited a site.

After 24 hours, the cookie gets segregated so it may be used for things like logins, but won’t facilitate much else, including most forms of tracking. Cookies are depreciated entirely within 30 days.

Safari will continue blocking third-party cookies by default, but this new feature will significantly change the digital advertising landscape.

First, this move represents an escalation in the arms race between those who control the user experience and those seeking to more effectively draw insights from users. This arms race has been going on for nearly a decade in multiple forums – from Microsoft first floating the idea of blocking third-party cookies by default in Internet Explorer to the battles around browser-based Do Not Track and even, albeit somewhat analogously, Apple’s decision to depreciate IDFA for opted-out users.

One thing has changed during the last decade, however. The browser is no longer at the center of any user’s digital experience. This is probably obvious, but it bears repeating. The browser is only one slice of the pie that is a consumer’s digital experience.

So today, there are two competing forces. On one side, the large social platforms and mobile O/S companies are trying to silo the user experience. And on the other side, advertisers are trying to break down those walls to obtain a 360-degree view of their customers.

Impact On NAI And DAA Opt-Out Pages 

In April, the Network Advertising Initiative (NAI) and Digital Advertising Alliance (DAA) announced the creation of an opt-out tool for cookie-based and non-cookie-based tracking technologies that complied with DAA and NAI codes, although the NAI requires [PDF] members to take additional steps.

The opt-out tool allowed ad tech companies to offer first-party opt-out cookies via Safari. Companies could use more persistent tracking mechanisms, such as fingerprinting, while still complying with industry codes. First-party cookies are more persistent, which puts them on par with many of the non-HTTP cookie-based tracking techniques. The idea was to have the level of persistence of the tracking mechanism more closely match the level of persistence of the choice mechanism.

If companies can no longer offer a choice mechanism via Safari due to Apple’s actions, should those same companies be able to continue tracking via Safari?

My guess is that the industry associations will take alternative steps to create a more persistent choice mechanism. For example, perhaps they create software or something analogous to the DAA’s AppChoices offering.

Winners And Losers

ITP will benefit large publishers, social media platforms and Google. This point has been well made by others. Intelligent tracking protection probably won’t negatively impact tracking via sites that are visited frequently, but may stop tracking on those where users visit less frequently. Make no mistake: Apple is using its considerable marketplace power to help pick winners and losers in digital media.

ITP may hurt – perhaps significantly – cross-device linking and some ad networks. What percentage of cross-device tracking is actually intradevice tracking? In other words, how often is an app linked to one or more browsers on a single mobile device, as opposed to linking onto a separate computer? Anecdotally, I’m hearing that it’s a high enough percentage to have an impact.

In any event, I think it’s safe to say that if you remove mobile Safari browsers from the cross-device footprint, you significantly reduce that footprint. Thus, Apple’s move may have a significant impact on the device graph vendors and companies that have built a significant footprint with first-party cookies. It will be interesting to see how these companies in particular respond.

Follow Alan Chapell (@chapell68) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

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