The Safari browser update that's driving marketers crazy
Technically Speaking examines how to outsmart intelligent tracking
Apple Safari's second iteration of Intelligent Tracking Prevention, or "ITP2"—which prevents tracking cookies from working in the open web—has been causing havoc among marketers since it launched. Apple introduced its first version of ITP in 2017, but companies such as Google and Criteo quickly found workarounds to maintain the status quo. That prompted Apple to introduce a newer, stricter version last September.
Currently, a Safari user who visits Patagonia's site looking for a cotton quilt pullover, for example, can't be targeted with ads from the retailer elsewhere on the web. The same applies if that shopper abandons the Patagonia shopping cart with said pullover in it—Patagonia can't target the shopper with that item on other sites.
Couple this with the fact that Safari is the dominant mobile browser in the U.S., holding more than 53 percent market share, according to Statista, and ITP2 becomes a real headache for marketers demanding measurement, attribution, re-targeting, cross-channel frequency management and personalization.
"The downside for marketers is that the industry loses a lot of visibility into one's customer and prospect behaviors, as well as the ability to act on this information in real time," says Shane McAndrew, chief data strategy officer at the media agency Mindshare U.S.
"The downside to consumers, if there is one, is a slight loss of personalization," he adds. "But, thinking at a more macro level, this is a necessary step to regaining consumer trust in advertising."
Still, McAndrew says there are a few workarounds, all of which Apple is well aware of. Some companies, for example, have been experimenting with techniques like device fingerprinting—finding unique identifiers like IP addresses and locations on devices such as computers and cell phones.
Advertisers can also add first-party cookies to collect first-hand data on visitors to their sites (instead of using less-accurate third-party cookies, which are placed on customers' hard drives by companies other than the site's owner).
Although these tactics exist, not everyone is using them. Big picture: ITP2 will likely remain a cat-and-mouse game between Apple and large ad-tech companies as the iPhone maker has already proven that it will evolve its tech to negate anything designed to work around its technology.
Yet for now marketers would do well to move away from overly relying on those third-party cookies despite their promise of scale, McAndrew says, adding that Apple is making things "harder and harder" for marketers.
Marketers are increasingly using first-party data assets to identify and target audiences. Google, Microsoft and Facebook each offer workarounds that allow advertisers to track users on Safari (and, to a lesser extent, Firefox). These solutions are more effective when using Google Global Site Tag, Google Tag Manager, Microsoft Click ID or Facebook Pixel. Advertisers should also consider using their first-party data to optimize their data collection and activation strategies, as they can be supported through the use of tag management systems in conjunction with data or customer management platforms that can facilitate data storage and activation.
"Advertising directly to consumers as a whole should be permission-based and privacy-safe," McAndrew says. "In the long term, ITP2 will be a very positive thing and this gets the industry one step closer, maybe a bit sooner than our industry was ready. But necessity is the mother of all invention."
Requiring permission from the user to be tracked, and improving self-regulation of the data supply chain—such as wiping out a legion of irrelevant ads for consumers while also improving ROI for brands—are good moves long-term, McAndrew says. "No doubt scale will be impacted, but the debate around precision versus scale is one for another day. At the end of the day, the industry needs, and is moving to, higher-fidelity IDs," he says.
For digital media to evolve, everything from data to tech should have a single currency across all channels, according to McAndrew. "The future of digital media, as well as TV, [is] now addressable, and you can create a much higher-fidelity identity system based off of things like hashed email addresses and even physical address," he says. "We should really look at the world of media as being either addressable or not, until everything is addressable."