Q&A: Is Intelligent Tracking Prevention a Digital Marketer’s Nightmare?

Sep 28, 2017

Article ImageWith its latest iPhone announcement, Apple sent some digital marketers into a tizzy. The new Safari 11 web browser includes an “Intelligent Tracking Prevention” feature, which imposes a 24-hour limit on data tracking. EContent talked to Chris Loretto, EVP of digital marketing agency Adtaxi, to separate the hype from reality.


Q: Can you tell us, in your own words, what “Intelligent Tracking Prevention” is?

A: In an effort to protect consumer privacy, Intelligent Tracking Prevention limits first and third party cookies from tracking user activity as they navigate site to site on the web. ITP allows for a 24-hour window in which the cookies will remain available for ad targeting, or conversion attribution purposes. After that 24-hour window, the cookie can no longer be used in a 3rd party context and is only available for users to stay logged into a site.

Q: Does it pose a threat to digital marketers?

A: The biggest challenge for marketers will be around conversion tracking and retargeting, or behavioral targeting with regard to display advertising - particularly on sites not frequented on a daily basis. Because of the 24-hour window restriction, marketers will lose attribution data on users that take a particular action, such as making a purchase on an advertiser’s website, more than 24 hours after viewing or clicking on an ad, when done so using a Safari browser.

In addition, marketers utilize retargeting to re-engage users who have shown interest in their brand, exhibited by the user visiting or engaging with their website. ITP will only allow retargeting ads to be shown to users within 24 hours of visiting the advertiser’s website—rather than a look-back window being set by the marketer, which can be up to 60 days or more.

While this change does impose some challenges, the real impact may actually be somewhat isolated. With this new release, Safari will also block first party cookies; however, Safari has always made it challenging to target and measure due to their default settings which have previously blocked third party cookies. Consequently, some marketers had already begun to exclude Safari browsers from their ad targeting to not waste money on untrackable users…

Q: We heard a lot of similar outcry when Google introduced tabs to Gmail. How does this compare?

A: When Google introduced tabs in Gmail, it forced marketers to stop the “batch and blast” approach and produce relevant, trustworthy, and engaging email content that consumers actually find valuable. Similar to this, at the time of this change, Gmail had limited market share. And while the introduction of tabs resulted in a large decrease in opens initially, it had very little impact on clicks and unsubscribes, according to Litmus.

When any major changes like this come through, the industry tends to have a “the sky is falling” reaction. And as we’ve seen with most of them, the industry adapts by generally making improvements that benefit the consumer experience.

Q: Might these changes be beneficial for alternative types of marketing?

A: The industry relies heavily on the cookie now; but with smartphones and tablets, Device ID, or something similar, will likely become the ubiquitous identifier that can identify users across browsers and apps, making cookies a thing of the past.


Advertising supports a robust digital ecosystem of quality journalism, social networks, and free content; however, some ad experiences are leaving users frustrated and turning to ad blockers. The Coalition for Better Ads, a member group of trade associations and companies involved in online media, is working to set and implement new standards for online advertising that enhance the user experience. While this doesn’t directly address Apple’s release, it will have an impact on the types of advertising experiences consumers receive online.

Q: What can digital marketers do to prepare for the coming changes?

A: It’s important for marketers to be able to make data-driven decisions and have an accurate view into which ads are providing the most value for their business. To prepare for this change, marketers should work with their agency or internal team to understand how each of their campaigns is set up, how the platforms they are using will be impacted, and what workarounds may be necessary to access the data they require.

For example, those advertising via paid search on Google should ensure their AdWords and Google Analytics accounts are linked. If AdWords campaigns are using imported goals from Google Analytics, and auto-tagging is enabled, conversion tracking will remain intact under this change. Those without a Google Analytics account or without them linked, will see a drop in reported conversions; however, Google is meeting with Apple later this month to discuss their predictive model for the missing conversions, which should be similar to their model for in-store conversion tracking.  

In the end, marketers have the control. Marketers can choose to bid differently or exclude Safari from targeting so as not to “waste money” on untrackable users.

The industry always has a way of balancing itself with these changes. They have an impact initially, but generally results aren’t as dire as people prognosticate in the early stages. As long as marketers find ways to provide increasing value to users, heavy-handed shifts won’t be needed to course-correct.

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