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Should Brands Care about Apple’s Cookie-Blocking Technology?

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Lindsay Ferris

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Apple recently made a big announcement, and we’re not talking about the new iPhone X. This is about ad technology, and before you tune me out, know this: This change will affect nearly everyone who does digital advertising and marketing.

Yes, that means us. Yes, that means you.

Apple intends to integrate cookie-blocking technology in their upcoming release of Safari on both its desktop and mobile platforms. The technology, called ITP (Intelligent Tracking Prevention), will place a 24-hour limit on ad retargeting against third-party cookies. This signals a major change for marketers and ad-tech companies, which traditionally have had access to this data for 30 days.

ITP will be able to block cookies (and thus, relevant ads) by overriding and replacing the users’ cookie preferences with a set of Apple-controlled standards. For a more in-depth look at how it works, check out TechCrunch’s updated article of the initial announcement.

The decision was met with immediate criticism from digital advertisers, and prompted six major trade associations, including the ANA, the 4A’s and the American Advertising Federation, to draft a letter to voice their concerns and frustrations over Apple’s announcement. In their letter, they argue that ITP will make it very difficult for marketers to get relevant ads to target consumers. The letter also said ITP would also hurt user experience by making advertising more generic and less timely and useful.

Critics believe that this move by Apple unfairly benefits big tech platforms like Google, Facebook and Amazon, all of whom have a large, highly engaged user base. See the letter and accompanying article by Marty Swant for Adweek.

What’s the big deal with cookie-blocking technology?

It’s not hard to see why marketers are freaking out. eMarketer predicts that digital ad spending is expected to reach $83 billion in 2017, an increase of 16 percent from 2016. Additionally, Safari accounts for about 52 percent of U.S. mobile browsing, followed by Chrome at 39 percent, as reported by StatCounter.

This news puts pressure on digital agencies and marketing tech providers to develop a new means of tracking other than cookies, which, in fairness, traditionally aren’t very accurate. Cookies are also typically viewed as an annoyance by consumers. It also doesn’t help that according to The Verge, Google and Facebook accounted for more than 90 percent of every new ad dollar spent on the web.

Apple swiftly responded to the criticism, stating:

“The new Intelligent Tracking Prevention feature detects and eliminates cookie and other data used for this cross-site tracking, which means it helps keep a person’s browsing private. The feature does not block ads or interfere with legitimate tracking on the sites that people actually click on and visit. Cookies for sites that you interact with function as designed, and ads placed by web publishers will appear normally.”

What exactly qualifies as “legitimate tracking?” Apple uses machine-learning technology, which can distinguish between useful, first-party cookies – such as user login information – versus privacy-invading ad-related cookies.

What’s next?

Regardless of what Apple decides, it appears this major digital advertising issue won’t be going away anytime soon. Google is currently in the process of testing ad-blocking technology for Chrome, which could be released as early as next year.

Ultimately, Apple views protecting user privacy as both a strategic differentiator and a great PR move and doesn’t seem to be too concerned with how the move will benefit major players like Facebook and Google.

Want to know more about what this might mean for your brand or your campaigns? Let us know, we’d be happy to talk.


Lindsay Ferris

Alter ego: Liz Lemon.

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