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What You Need to Know About Apple's Intelligent Tracking Prevention

5 MINUTE READ | September 19, 2017

What You Need to Know About Apple's Intelligent Tracking Prevention

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Brannon Low

Brannon Low has written this article. More details coming soon.


With Intelligent Tracking Prevention, Safari will no longer allow you to track users after 24 hours, which will impact both conversions and remarketing across channels. If you have Google Analytics, you should be able to continue forward, as usual, if not, you could be missing out on 10%-20% of conversions.

Ad blockers have been on the market for a while now, but in the past, users had to either download an extension or a whole new browser. Now, Apple is making that choice for you with the newest release of Safari and something they are calling Intelligent Tracking Prevention (ITP).

Back in June, Apple announced the latest macOS ‘High Sierra’ and along with it, a host of changes to the web browser Safari. With the introduction of Safari 11 comes Intelligent Tracking Prevention which according to Apple, “Uses machine learning to identify and remove the tracking data that advertisers employ to follow users’ web activity.”

More specifically, starting on September 19 Safari will allow 3rd party cookies for 24 hours and then block the cookies they deem unnecessary. From John Wilander, Apple WebKit Security Engineer, “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.” He goes on to say, “This makes sure users stay logged in even if they only visit a site occasionally while restricting the use of cookies for cross-site tracking.”

Understandably, the advertising community isn’t exactly thrilled about this change being forced on the digital ecosystem.

The biggest effect of Intelligent Tracking Prevention will be on conversion tracking. As advertisers, it’s hard to spend money on digital without being able to track success in terms of conversions especially in the case of ROI or ROAS targets. From what we’ve seen at PMG, for an average account, this change could mean missing out on anywhere from 10-20% of total conversions. Not only do those conversions become untrackable, but you as an advertiser are still paying for the clicks/impressions.

The effects of conversion loss will be magnified for accounts that use longer conversion windows or accounts that are skewed towards mobile.

Another ancillary effect of the cookie blocking is the ability (or lack thereof) to retarget users. If 3rd party cookies (like AdWords) get blocked after 24 hours in Safari we expect all remarketing outside of CRM to see a drastic decrease in volume.

Many advertisers think this could be a devastating blow to 3rd party tracking companies as well. Because they believe this gives an unfair advantage to the advertising giants like Google and Facebook who see users on a daily basis. Curt Larson, VP of product at native advertising software company Sharethrough, said, “It helps them [Google and Facebook] in the fact that it hurts everyone else.”

While all these changes may sound grim, there is a workaround through Google Analytics that is ITP compliant and will allow advertisers to still track past 24 hours.

From a recent Google email:

“If you have auto-tagging enabled and a Google Analytics tag on your website, we’ll begin to set a new Google Analytics cookie on that site’s domain, which will store information about the ad click that brought a user to your site. If you have linked your AdWords and Google Analytics accounts, the AdWords conversion tracking tag will be able to use that click information.”

“The conversion cookie is set on the domain, which means it is considered a third-party cookie. With this change, the new _gac cookie will be set on the advertiser’s domain, becoming a first-party cookie and acceptable to ITP. Meaning that ad data associated with the user will remain intact for attribution and conversion reporting.”

If you don’t have Google Analytics, AdWords will be able to track conversions accurately for 24 hours, and then Google will model conversions for Safari going forward. Obviously, this is not ideal, but as of the writing of this post, other 3rd party tracking services don’t have a solution to continue tracking on Safari after the first 24 hours.

If your brand uses Google Analytics, you should be able to continue forward as usual, but if not, the advertising community is anticipating that you could be missing out on a projected 10-20% of conversions.

We know each account is different and the effects of these changes will vary. For those who have Google Analytics integration, you shouldn’t see any changes in conversion volume. For those who do not, we have reached out to all 3rd party tracking companies to uncover a solution. So far, no other solutions have been found to continue tracking as usual on Safari.

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Going forward, we will continue to update our blog with any new developments surrounding Intelligent Tracking Prevention.

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