What Apple’s Intelligent Tracking Prevention Means to You

November 16, 2017 Moira Freeman, Product Marketing Manager, Nielsen

In late September, Apple released an update to its popular operating system, iOS 11. This included a new feature in its Safari browser called Intelligent Tracking Prevention. The feature blocks third-party trackers from capturing cross-site browsing data for ad targeting purposes.

For some time now, Safari has defaulted to blocking third-party cookies. Intelligent Tracking Prevention builds on that by further reducing cross-site tracking.

What does a feature that limits how visitors can be tracked online mean for advertisers? Read on to learn what we recommend.

Reducing Cross-Site Tracking

Intelligent Tracking Prevention is one of a number of different ways that Apple is trying to cut back on ad tracking. This approach limits the use of cookies for ad retargeting to 24 hours, and deletes a site’s cookies entirely if a user doesn’t visit for 30 days. The standard cookie in Google AdWords, on the other hand, is 30 days, and most bid tools are 90 days.

A blog post by Apple WebKit security engineer John Wilander explains that Intelligent Tracking Prevention builds on Safari’s existing default blocking of third-party cookies and “reduces cross-site tracking by further limiting cookies and other website data.”

This means users only have long-term persistent cookies and website data from the sites they actually interact with and tracking data is removed proactively as they browse the web.
The impact of Intelligent Tracking Prevention will be felt mainly on mobile devices running iOS, where Safari has nearly 50 percent market share in North America.

Advertiser Concerns

The ad industry has reacted with concerns that this will hurt user experience and campaign targeting. In an open letter, six advertising trade groups, including the Interactive Advertising Bureau, criticized Apple’s move as “opaque and arbitrary.”

In the letter, advertisers state they believe consistent standards for cookies allow them to “build content, services, and advertising that are personalized for users and remember their visits” and that Apple’s move breaks those standards.

What You Need to Know

The new restrictions in Safari do make it harder for third parties in general to understand a user’s journey across the internet. However, Safari has always been difficult to track on because it reduces the effectiveness of third party cookies. We don’t believe that this new feature will make it significantly worse.

In addition, Safari doesn’t have the largest market share (just 5.02 percent globally and 9.18 percent of the US market) nor is it the most important data source for most brands. 

From our perspective, this highlights the importance of cross-device tracking as a tool that is not just important for mobile measurement, but something that is now essential for any type of digital advertising and measurement.

Respecting Privacy and User Preferences

Apple believes that Intelligent Tracking Prevention is a more advanced method for protecting user privacy. Nielsen is committed to user privacy and to industry best practices for opting out. We also respect a user’s right to choose whether or not and how much they are tracked online.

Consolidating Data with Big Players

Apple’s action may have the unintended effect of consolidating more power with the largest ad-tech and internet players. Intelligent Tracking Prevention may give Google and Amazon an advantage because of the built-in 24-hour window. A large majority of people visit these sites on a daily basis, and most of those visitors stay logged in whenever they’re online. Small players won’t be able to track users as effectively. 

Our Point of View

We don’t believe that the changes Apple has rolled out will have a significant impact on our customer’s ability to collect data, or on our ability to provide attribution on behalf of our customers. We do not expect It to affect our customers’ ability to track consumers across devices and channels, whether they’re using the Nielsen pixel or an ad server pixel.

We will continue to be able to understand consumer behavior and performance on behalf of our customers, and provide the marketing intelligence they need to optimize spend and drive results.

We’re working closely with the industry to anticipate any impact Intelligent Tracking Prevention may have in the future. Given the recency of the rollout, we don’t know exactly how it will affect every possible combination of tag. 

To continue acquiring and retaining customers, advertisers need to deliver tailored ads, messages and experiences across online and offline channels, as well as devices. We will continue to monitor this new feature in the days ahead and to provide the actionable insights our customers need.

More Information

Need a deeper dive? Read this post from the IAB Tech Lab, an independent, international, research and development consortium charged with producing and helping companies implement global industry technical standards: Understanding & Reacting To Apple’s Safari Browser Tracking Changes

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