IOS 11: What Intelligent Tracking Prevention Means For Marketers

September 18, 2017

Apple’s annual Worldwide Developer Conferences and added events throughout the year are moments in time that are kept extremely top of mind in our industry. Beyond its reveal of product iterations and enhanced technology solutions for consumers, Apple often alludes to changes that directly impact the advertising ecosystem, and this year is no different.

With the upcoming release of its newest mobile operating system, iOS 11, and next generation macOS, Apple will be introducing an updated feature to Safari that allow users to turn on Intelligent Tracking Prevention. The tool is meant to safeguard users’ data, and enable a more relevant ad experience – one that, in effect, does not allow for the ongoing retargeting of ads across sites that users may not have directly interacted with along their mobile journeys. The move would seem to be a competitive push against the big players in advertising – mainly Facebook and Google – but many in the industry have noted that the two will actually benefit from the change, given that most users visit the two platforms daily.

It also sheds light on the overarching challenges marketers have, and continue to face around ad blocking, and consumer trust and privacy.

So, what is Intelligent Tracking Prevention (ITP), how does it work, and what could the potential impact be?

ITP was first introduced in June this year during the WWDC in San Jose, and on the Apple Webkit blog. It’s a feature for both iOS11 and macOS that partially blocks the use of cookies – more accurately, the use of third party cookies after a 24 hour time window. ITP leverages machine learning techniques in order to understand what sites and platforms are tracking user behavior and site activity across domains. The intention is to limit the ability for advertisers to track, and leverage consumer data across their Safari browsing behavior, particularly if it’s going to result in an unwanted, irrelevant ad experience.

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 grey area in attributing the eventual conversion correctly.

Here is what we know about how ITP will limit the use of cookies:

  1. 1. The suppression of cookies older than 24 hours in iOS11 Safari will be applied to third party This will impact DoubleClick Campaign Manager (DCM) and Kenshoo conversion tracking, as well as several third party ad networks like Criteo and AdRoll.

Note, an important caveat: after 30 days, first party cookie tracking will become much less reliable, especially in the event that there’s been little to no interactions with a site on the user’s end.



2. Google has already made moves in the way it captures and reports on conversions in AdWords, by implementing a new Google Analytics cookie, the _gac cookie. According to Search Engine Land’s report, the noted change in GA is aimed to help advertisers accurately understand attribution and campaign performance, while staying aligned with Apple’s recent ‘guidelines’.

“Today, the conversion cookie is set on the domain, which means it is considered a third-party cookie. With this change, the new _gac cookie will be set on the advertiser’s domain, becoming a first-party cookie and acceptable to ITP.”

Another important caveat: If advertisers’ GA and AdWords accounts are fully integrated, the new cookie will allow conversions to be captured. But if the accounts are not linked, Google will only be using historical-based modeling to record conversions – in other words, it will be forecasting for conversions.

Google has sent email communications to all of its AdWords advertisers, detailing the change to the GA cookie, and asking advertisers to sign a new terms and conditions agreement.

3. While more detailed communications haven’t yet been made public by partners like Kenshoo, Adobe and Facebook, we don’t doubt that they’re proactively looking at how to mitigate potential measurement impact.

What will the impact be on mobile?

Because iOS11 has not been widely rolled out yet, our ability to test the exact impact is somewhat limited for the time being. But given the potential challenges for attribution that may come up, we looked at some initial scenarios from a mobile device perspective.

In running some initial performance reports in Google Analytics, we’ve detected a small fraction – likely beta users – of Safari iOS11 in the market. We created comparative segments for iOS10 and iOS11 users, and looked at recency reporting. Both segments behaved similarly in terms of proportions of visitors that were coming from these iOS versions, and returning after 1, 2, or 3 days. If first party cookies were being deleted after 24 hours, we would have seen the iOS11 users go back to zero. Hence, first party cookies are not affected.

Assuming that iOS 11 adoption fully supplants iOS 10 adoption (which will take several months), and given that iOS users make up about 30% of traffic, 80% do upgrade to the latest version, and 80% of traffic has a recency of under 1 day, we are looking at an impact on about 1.9% of visits that may no longer be attributed to their rightful campaigns. That number would be even smaller for conversions, because mobile users typically convert less than on desktop.

The level of impact ITP has on cookie behavior, and on our clients’ programs, is something we will be monitoring closely, and testing as we see more iOS11 mobile and upgraded macOS users in the market. We will be following up as we gain more insight.

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