Apple’s latest move to block cookies

Apple is continuing its war on companies and websites’ insidious tracking of users, with its latest iteration of the Intelligent Tracking Prevention (ITP) protocol.

Soon to be bundled in iOS 12.2 and Safari 12.1 (on macOS), ITP 2.1 will start capping first party browser cookies’ expiry time at just 7 days. For reference, the default Google Analytics cookie expiration time is 2 years.

This is a potentially huge shake-up for the web analytics, web development and online advertising industries, as browser cookies are an integral part to how the modern-day web functions. Amongst other things, they allow you to automatically log in to your favourite websites and save items in your shopping basket between visits.

The 7-day cut off on first party cookies (for mobile and desktop Safari users) has ramifications for both analysts and advertisers, who until now have leveraged browser cookies to track users across sites, analyse users’ behaviour on sites, and serve targeted ads to users based on their online behaviour. While the last release of ITP (ITP 2) cracked down on third-party cookies (cookies set by other websites to the website you are browsing), ITP 2.1 is affecting first-party cookies (those that are set by the website you’re browsing).

Most analytics tools out there (including Google Analytics) rely on cookies to identify whether you have visited a website before or not – this is why the standard cookie expiration time is generally around 2 years. If you visit a website on 1st January 2019 and visit it again in 3 months, analysts will want to know you have seen the site before – as this is likely to mean you will behave differently to if you were visiting the site for the very first time. ITP 2.1 means that analytics tools will start reporting a large increase in the number of new users to websites, as the cookie is likely to have expired between visits.

As for what we can do about the update; there have already been work-arounds identified by tech savvy analysts out there, which use other types of browser storage such as Local Storage. On top of this, updates are also expected by large tech vendors such as Facebook and Adobe, as well as from browser developers like Google and Microsoft. However, the reality of the situation is that the trend Apple has started is likely to continue. As users get more and more conscious of their privacy online, and less and less tolerant of companies tracking them across the web, digital marketers and analysts will need to accept that the detailed level of tracking they have gotten used to over the years is likely to shrink somewhat…

Written by:

Barry Bell

Category:

What we think

Date:

27/02/2019

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