Apple’s Intelligent Tracking Prevention (ITP) feature for its Safari browser has riled up the digital marketing industry.

The update to iOS 11 will mean first-party cookies that previously lasted forever will now expire within 24 hours while deleting a site’s cookies entirely if the user doesn’t visit the site for 30 days.

Last week, six major advertising groups, including the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB), sent an open letter to the Californian tech company accusing Apple of “sabotage” to the economic model of the internet.

For affiliate marketers relying on the ability to track users’ behaviour along the customer journey and attribute value to each of its actions, the move could render a huge chunk of consumers untrackable. In the wake of the news, PerformanceIN rounded up the words of some of the industry’s leading performance marketing networks to get a guage on the severity of the situation, and what’s being done behind the scenes to counteract it.

Richard Dennys, CEO at Webgains, believes it’s still “early days” to make an accurate judgement on the how the update will impact the world of advertising and e-commerce, but adds that the network is “monitoring the situation” closely.

“That said, I think it will take a few weeks, or even months, for the true impact of the Safari ITP update to be fully felt. We may even see a move away from Safari by value driven consumers, or a new bed of innovation for Martech and Adtech.”

“This is just Apple’s latest ingredient to the ‘secret sauce’ of how Safari will track third party cookies moving forward,” he added.

Tradedoubler’s vice president of business development, James Milne, believes the real impact will be on display and targeted advertising – “especially retargeting” – but doesn’t deny the widespread effect it will have on anyone using third-party cookie tracking, while first-party data tracking may dodge the bullet within the 30-day window. 

Milne also expects that ITP will have a significantly varied impact across different industry sectors with different purchase cycle patterns, with tracking activity within 24 hours “in theory” being unaffected, and suggests advertisers and publishers should rigorously check their tracking implementation.

“Advertisers will need to revisit their tracking setup and potentially update their network tracking – first-party and/or cookieless – and publishers should be made be aware of this by advertisers.

“I also think that networks, advertisers and publishers will need to investigate the overall impact of using third-party reliant attribution platforms, such as Doubleclick, which are widely used, as this could have a huge effect,” said Milne.

Milne adds that looking forward he expects other browsers to look for similar solutions;  “I also think it will be very interesting to see what happens in other channels. Will this force publishers – probably outside of affiliate – to change their models?”.

Adam Ross, COO at Awin, said on the Affiliate Cockpit Facebook group in regard to ITP that “tracking is our lifeblood”, and the network invests a significant amount in “adapting its systems and processes to the changing landscape”.

“Balancing legitimate user privacy concerns against our needs as a network is an interesting challenge but one we welcome. Fundamentally, we believe affiliate marketing is well placed to handle this challenge as, in most cases, we’re providing a useful service to the end user which only yields profits when it’s successful,” said Ross.

Dennys compared Apple’s announcement to Google’s PageRank updates of 2002-2006; “Everyone working on SEO friendly content suddenly held their breath and then worked furiously to recover losses or capitalise on gains after each ‘wave’ of updates.

“In fact, I think we might be witnessing the birth of a similar revolution in e-commerce, although it’s interesting to see how Google reacted to this update. Advertising and e-commerce is still the main revenue generator for Google with sophisticated cross-device and retargeting tracking features built into their Doubleclick and Analytics stack.”

Ultimately, the reaction is not one of panic but of ‘let’s wait and see’ with all networks in agreement that any significant effect will be gradual, and assuring partners that any changes will be closely monitored. 

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