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Deep Dive #1: Apple's ITP 2.0 Update and Impact on Cookie Tracking

Deep Dive #1: Apple's ITP 2.0 Update and Impact on Cookie Tracking

PerformanceIN

As part of our Deep Dive Content Series, PerformanceIN will be going in-depth into some the performance marketing industry’s most pressing challenges. The first feature is an overview of Apple’s Intelligent Tracking Prevention update for Safari web browsers and its impact on third-party cookie tracking.

Trillion-dollar company Apple unveiled its new iPhone operating software iOS 12 and macOS Mojave at its annual Apple Conference in California. While the lucrative gadgets made the headlines, there was one particular update that currently has the affiliate marketing industry holding its breath – Intelligent Tracking Prevention (ITP) 2.0 – a privacy enhancement for Safari web browsers.

What is ITP? The privacy enhancement was first introduced in September 2017 for the Safari browser on iOS 11 and macOS High Sierra. The initial aim was to identify and ‘partition’ third-party cookies set by a web domain, which are often associated with collecting user’s data without their knowledge or consent. When a cookie is partitioned, it gives a unique storage classification that is attached to the root or top-level domain of the cookie – allowing the domain’s cookies to exist on a user’s Safari browser for 24 hours. This data is commonly used by advertisers, publishers and networks for targeted advertising and online tracking purposes.

September 17 saw the default rollout of iOS 12 on mobile and the first of ITP 2.0, which is set to bring in several changes – one of which is the removal of the 24-hour window for third-party cookies to exist and be used by the Safari browser.

So what does this necessarily mean for those tracking third-party data and sales via the Safari browser?

While the impending update represents a shift in consumer awareness around user privacy and data handling, the most pressing concerns are among merchants that run third-party tracking as the update will mean that affiliate sales will no longer be tracked on Safari if the user is running the Apple’s new operating system MacOS Mojave from September 24.

There has been a number of articles published on the implications of the changes, whether an advertiser, network or publisher. For example, TUNE’s recent blog post states that all tracking cookies will be blocked under ITP 2.0 unless using a subdomain of the site’s primary domain, mitigating the impact by switching to server tracking to prevent traffic loss or using a tracking platform that supports first-party cookie-to-serve-side notification tracking.

Initially, when collecting data, the user clicks on a network affiliate link when they visit a website. This allows the network to capture data on the identity of the affiliate which also sees the network set a cookie using their domain. To break this down, when a user makes a purchase on the advertiser’s site, a conversion tag is normally triggered that uses a network tracking domain, which will attempt to associate with the cookie.

Putting this into real terms, Impact recently estimated that advertisers relying on traditional tracking methods will lose commission on an average of 9% of sales generated by their partners as a direct result of Apple’s ITP 2.0, meanwhile ad tech company Criteo stated that the new update will cut its 2018 revenue by more than a fifth.

So, from the offset, this appears to be a domino effect in which the merchant would lose out from the ITP 2.0 update but more so the publisher in this case as they would be the ones who will lose out on commission from the termination of third-party cookie.

Is there a solution?

As of now, there isn’t a one-stop solution to combat this but there are some general discussions and articles circulating to prepare those affected by the changes to respond in some way, as with the aforementioned TUNE blog post. 

Whether you’re a network, advertiser or an affiliate, there are some steps that should be considered when approaching ITP 2.0. The Performance Marketing Association has outlined this specifically for each position, for example, if a network relaying information to your merchants about how your network is dealing with the changes and what the merchants need to do in order to be compliant is a must.

Some networks and platforms are informing advertisers and merchants about the necessary steps to be compliant with ITP 2.0. For example, for advertisers using their full-tracking solution to track sales, Awin has confirmed in an article that their tracking package will not be impacted by Apple’s update – thanks to the network’s Advertiser MasterTag using first-party data cookies.

The likes of Impact, CJ Affiliate, Share A Sale and Tradedoubler have all released updates on ITP 2.0 and the necessary next steps to follow to their respective partners.

While information on how to resolve this is are floating around, there are growing concerns around the merchants and how they will become compliant in time for when the update takes full effect on both mobile and desktop – and this is where we dig into the question: which ones will be most affected?

Response from networks

There appears to be some movement or alignment from networks releasing data on the types of merchants likely affected and non-compliant for ITP 2.0. 

Awin has unveiled this information in its metadata, which can be accessed via their website (log in with your Awin account) – outlining which merchants on their network are ITP compliant. The results show that around two-thirds are compliant with the changes. 

However, rumour has it that are a number of merchants are unprepared for the incoming update, while n the cashback space, publisher TopCashback is currently gathering a list of affected merchants from the networks and will be displaying comms to their customers using Safari to use another browser to track cashback.

“ITP 2.0 will undoubtedly have a longer-term impact on the industry, and I think its impact will actually be positive because it will raise the general standard of online tracking practices, ensuring the most reputable online advertising networks continue to do business while protecting the interests of users,” commented Anthony Clements, managing partner at Connected Path.

The Affiliate Cockpit has seen a lot of in discussion around the ITP 2.0 update and its initial impact to the affiliate industry. One of the major concerns among affiliates is the transparency of networks and tech partners sharing merchants likely affected by ITP 2.0. While the networks mentioned in this article are making the efforts, there are questions being asked for others to do more while there’s difficulty in identifying if merchants are still able to track cookie data under ITP 2.0.

“What will happen with ITP 2.0? We can guess but we don’t know until it comes in,” commented Webgains’ CEO Richard Dennys in the Cockpit. “If affiliates are hit in the short term they will head towards advertisers (and networks) who are least influenced or impacted by sales on Apple devices. Money more often follows money, as they say, so if ITP 2.0 hits the pockets of affiliates and therefore networks through override I am sure you will see a big swing into alignment and fast”.

Here at PerformanceIN, we’re closely monitoring the developments on Apple’s ITP 2.0 update and its effect on cookie tracking on mobile and desktop but more importantly the impact it will have on advertisers, networks and affiliates.

This article is active and will be updated accordingly once the full process rolls out on iOS 12 and MacOS Mojave from September 24. For now, we would like to encourage feedback and discussion from the industry on how ITP 2.0 may affect you so that we can educate each other and learn how best to combat this approach.

If you would like to contribute to this article and have a say on Apple ITP 2.0, drops us an email to content@performancein.com or continue the discussion via the comment section below.

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Mustafa Mirreh

Mustafa Mirreh

In addition to managing editorial on PerformanceIN, Mustafa reports on the latest day-to-day news updates from the world of digital marketing, while also doing social media promotion, live reporting of events, article features and interviewing key industry players and stakeholders.

Based in Bristol, Mustafa graduate with a marketing degree before delving into the world of music journalism through self-starting an online blog and collaborating with other publications. Now he has joined the PI team and has set his sights on succeeding in digital marketing.

Read more from Mustafa

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