Ad Trade Groups Sound The Alarm As Apple Closes The First-Party Cookie Jar

Six ad industry trade groups have called for Apple to rethink an upcoming change to Safari that will unilaterally block some first-party cookies.

Apple’s Safari browser started blocking third-party cookies by default earlier this summer with the release of its Intelligent Tracking Prevention, a machine learning-based feature that discourages cross-site user tracking.

But an extension of that tracking policy going live next week creates “a set of haphazard rules over the use of first-party cookies,” according to Thursday’s letter signed by the American Association of Advertising Agencies, Interactive Advertising Bureau, Association of National Advertisers (ANA), Data & Marketing Association, American Advertising Federation and Network Advertising Initiative.

One major concern is that Safari’s tracking prevention isn’t based on a hard-and-fast policy. Apple makes decisions on the fly as it learns what certain tags do and what users prefer.

“The infrastructure of the modern internet depends on consistent and generally applicable standards for cookies,” according to the six trade groups.

Apple’s guidance on Intelligent Tracking Prevention doesn’t discount the possibility of tracking across the web, but “(classifies) which top privately controlled domains have the ability to track the user cross-site.”

For example, both Facebook and Criteo connect identities across the web via cookies placed on sites in each company’s publisher network. But Apple’s machine-learning software could distinguish between those programs because Facebook claims a relationship with its users whereas Criteo is directly connected only to the publisher.

Criteo may use a first-party cookie, but Apple won’t treat it like a first-party stakeholder.

“Apple has a long history of preventing tracking of users by companies who have zero relationship with the users,” said Jason Kint, CEO of the news media trade group Digital Content Next.

Dan Jaffe, an executive at the ANA, said the Safari policy takes user choice out of the equation since Apple will make judgment calls on which cookies can stay without individual input.

“We think the consumer should be key in this process,” he told AdExchanger. “This isn’t about a publisher being clear about their tags and a person saying ‘no.’”

Kint said Intelligent Tracking Prevention may not be a perfect solution, but that it will more closely align with consumer expectations by blocking intermediaries without user relationships “from employing cross-site tracking workarounds.”

Although, what is a barrier if not a chance for a new workaround?

The Apple policy update “will create a challenge to the environment in general,” Criteo CEO Eric Eichmann told investors in a brief aside while announcing an unrelated retail data product Thursday.

Eichmann said Criteo is working on solutions that could mitigate the effects of Intelligent Tracking Prevention, and he compared the efforts to previous issues like ad blocking and cross-channel identity that shake up the industry before stabilizing into a status quo.

Advertising attribution and analytics will also be affected, since third-party measurement vendors sometimes piggyback on first-party cookies as well.

“Blocking cookies in this manner will drive a wedge between brands and their customers,” wrote the co-signing trade groups. “And it will make advertising more generic and less timely and useful.”

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