MacOS High Sierra and iOS 11 shipped with an update to Safari that’s been raising a few eyebrows, and a whole lot of tempers, since its release in mid-September.
The problem is a machine learning algorithm that is allegedly designed to protect user privacy, but advertisers claim is meant to cripple the digital advertising industry. As per usual, there’s plenty of hyperbole to go around, but Apple’s Intelligent Tracking Prevention is certainly worthy of the attention of every digital advertiser who uses the web to get their message out to the public.
What is Intelligent Tracking Prevention?
Apple’s Safari has always defaulted to blocking third-party cookies, but Intelligent Tracking Prevention takes that concept a little bit further. Instead of simply blocking these cookies that are created by a site originating from outside of the site a user is currently visiting, it uses basic machine learning techniques to decide if the cookie being created is wanted or unwanted by the user based on past behavior.
In very simple terms, user interaction is the key to everything. If a user interacts with a site more than once every 24 hours, then nothing changes from the way things have always been for Safari users. They have the same experiences as always. So, their interactions with Google, for example, will likely go unchanged.
However, after 24 hours, the machine starts to make some decisions. First, the site being interacted with will have its third-party cookies partitioned, so they’re isolated away from other cookies collected by the same Safari browser, and not able to access the information they contain. The browser will still allow the user to remain logged in to the site using cookies, however.
If a user goes more than 30 days without checking in on a site, all cookies, both those used to remain logged in and those partitioned third-party cookies, are deleted entirely. From that moment on, any new data from that domain is purged if it’s added back into the browser, unless the user purposefully navigates to the URL.
This way, a user can’t be tricked into returning to a site just to restart the browser’s cookie timer.
Safari Isn’t Going to Destroy Digital Advertising
As so often happens with these sort of situations, Apple’s Safari update may not have as wide-spread impact as digital marketers fear.
Although Safari is responsible for roughly half of all mobile traffic in North America, there are three important pieces of information to keep in mind when considering your next advertising move:
- Facebook mobile traffic is largely app-driven. Safari can do all the cookie-blocking it wants, and it still can’t make a dent in your advertising campaigns targeted to Facebook mobile users through the app. So, if your marketing has been effective at driving sales or brand recognition to mobile users, chances are good that it still will be effective.
- Sites used daily are going to remain more or less unchanged. Your Google advertisements are still going to get the same amount of traction. Those over two trillion daily searches on Google aren’t being run by a handful of users, and there’s a good chance there are a lot of Safari browsers among them. Google is everywhere, it’s a touchstone of everything we do today. It’s unlikely you’ll see any big changes with anything you’re marketing there.
- We can push back. Apple isn’t the boss of the Internet or the King of the Cookies. If this new tech becomes too much of a problem, the residents of the Internet can push back. When browsers become too technically difficult to interface with or make it hard for websites to continue to function due to a lack of monetization opportunities, the keepers of those sites can hobble the browsing experience. Because Apple’s main goal is to improve the experience for their users, the last thing they want is sites “not optimized for use with Safari.”
Ultimately, digital marketers may find that Intelligent Tracking Prevention isn’t the nightmare scenario being imagined right now, but it’ll be a few months before we can be sure about that. In the meantime, keep measuring your KPIs, especially if you have data matched to browser type. That’s the best way to be certain if Safari’s update is affecting you.