Apple's Move to Kill Cookies Brings Plea From Six Major Trade Associations

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Attendees exit the Steve Jobs Theater on the Apple campus after an event in Cupertino, California, on Tuesday.
Attendees exit the Steve Jobs Theater on the Apple campus after an event in Cupertino, California, on Tuesday. Credit: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg

Six major advertising trade groups have sent Apple a letter opposing its plan to limit cookies on the next version of its Safari browser.

In short, cookies will operate on users' Safari browsers as they always have, but with one significant caveat: Apple will purge all their data after 24 hours. Previously, marketers and ad-tech companies could access cookies' data for 30 days.

The update on cookies, dubbed Intelligent Tracking Prevention or ITP, is due in the version of Safari coming out this fall on both desktop and mobile.

ITP will likely result in consumers seeing fewer ads for stuff they've already purchased (yippie), but it's also likely to cause havoc for marketers trying to determine the results of their mobile advertising ads.

Safari's share of the U.S. mobile browser market is 52%, followed by Google's Chrome at 39%, according to the latest data from StatCounter.

The six trade associations -- 4A's, American Advertising Federation, Association of National Advertisers, Interactive Advertising Bureau, the Data & Marketing Association and Network Advertising Initiative -- argue that Apple's update will hurt the user experience by making it harder for marketers to show consumers ads relevant to them.

The groups also claim that Apple's Safari update is being done without giving the consumer a choice.

"We strongly encourage Apple to rethink its plan to impose its own cookie standards and risk disrupting the valuable digital advertising ecosystem that funds much of today's digital content and services," the letter reads.

Apple's move unquestionably benefits platforms like Google, Facebook and Amazon, which are all home to highly engaged users who frequent their various properties daily and voluntarily identify themselves.

Publishers and niche retailers, meanwhile, could suffer a major blow to their bottom line. Michael Connolly, CEO of ad tech platform Sonobi, says Apple's move will "undoubtedly have a negative impact on publishers who rely on advertising revenue" gained through cookies.

"This update, however, will not affect the walled gardens of Google and Facebook and will only further strengthen their position in attracting more ad dollars," Connolly says. "The market will need to evolve to an addressability standard that does not rely on cookies."

In a statement, Apple said its Intelligent Tracking Prevention is intended to deliver on people's right to privacy:

Ad tracking technology has become so pervasive that it is possible for ad tracking companies to recreate the majority of a person's web browsing history. This information is collected without permission and is used for ad re-targeting, which is how ads follow people around the Internet. The new Intelligent Tracking Prevention feature detects and eliminates cookies 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.

The conflict raises an important question, actually: Why is the ad industry still relying on cookies, which do their job far from perfectly and are unpopular with some consumers to boot?

"There are many other kinds of identifiers being tested all the time, and there have been for years, but the cookie continues to proliferate," says Scott Meyer, Evidon founder and president of Crownpeak Digital Governance. "Nobody has managed to kill it."

"This is part of a much bigger discussion over how consumers have better control over their data," says Meyer, who created the popular anti-tracking tech Ghostery. "Until we can change the prevailing view -- whether it's accurate or not -- that consumers and marketers are adversaries, these situations will continue."

Google, for its part, plans to block ads deemed most annoying by consumers with its Chrome browser.

You can view the letter signed by the six major trade associations below.

September 14, 2017

An Open Letter from the Digital Advertising Community

The undersigned organizations are leading trade associations for the digital advertising and marketing industries, collectively representing thousands of companies that responsibly participate in and shape today's digital landscape for the millions of consumers they serve.

We are deeply concerned about the Safari 11 browser update that Apple plans to release, as it overrides and replaces existing user-controlled cookie preferences with Apple's own set of opaque and arbitrary standards for cookie handling.

Safari's new "Intelligent Tracking Prevention" would change the rules by which cookies are set and recognized by browsers. In addition to blocking all third-party cookies (i.e. those set by a domain other than the one being visited), as the current version of Safari does, this new functionality would create a set of haphazard rules over the use of first-party cookies (i.e. those set by a domain the user has chosen to visit) that block their functionality or purge them from users' browsers without notice or choice.

The infrastructure of the modern Internet depends on consistent and generally applicable standards for cookies, so digital companies can innovate to build content, services, and advertising that are personalized for users and remember their visits. Apple's Safari move breaks those standards and replaces them with an amorphous set of shifting rules that will hurt the user experience and sabotage the economic model for the Internet.

Apple's unilateral and heavy-handed approach is bad for consumer choice and bad for the ad-supported online content and services consumers love. Blocking cookies in this manner will drive a wedge between brands and their customers, and it will make advertising more generic and less timely and useful. Put simply, machine-driven cookie choices do not represent user choice; they represent browser-manufacturer choice. As organizations devoted to innovation and growth in the consumer economy, we will actively oppose any actions like this by companies that harm consumers by distorting the digital advertising ecosystem and undermining its operations.

We strongly encourage Apple to rethink its plan to impose its own cookie standards and risk disrupting the valuable digital advertising ecosystem that funds much of today's digital content and services.


American Association of Advertising Agencies (4A's)

American Advertising Federation (AAF)

Association of National Advertisers (ANA)

Data & Marketing Association (DMA)

Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB)

Network Advertising Initiative (NAI)

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