For a while now, Apple’s CEO Tim Cook has been criticizing fellow Silicon Valley companies for basing their business models on the harvesting of personal information. According to Apple the collection of huge amounts of personal data by companies is harming society. That’s why the tech giant calls for new privacy laws, uses the privacy topic in campaigns and follows the privacy by design principle for their products.

Screenshot from Apple’s latest ad. Copyright Apple.

The introduction of Intelligent Tracking Protection (ITP) back in 2017 reflects this privacy vision, but the latest update (2.1) takes things even further and will certainly have an impact on advertisers, publishers and tech vendors that use online behavioral advertising, attribution, web analytics, A/B testing and personalization.

What is ITP 2.1?

In this blog post, we will explain the impact of ITP 2.1 on web analytics and online marketing. Apple announced ITP 2.1 in February 2019 and it applies to iOS 12.2 and Safari 12.1. The first version of ITP limited cross-screen tracking by degrading third-party cookies after 30 days. ITP 2.1 introduces a new set of measures:

  • Safari blocks all third-party cookies by default.
  • First-party cookies (except Secure HttpOnly cookies) will be degraded after seven days in Safari.

As a result, every website user who uses a Safari browser will be considered as a new visitor after seven days since the last visit.

Example

In case this is your first visit to our website, a cookie will register you as a new user. Should you return tomorrow you will be identified as a returning visitor. Analytics tools like Google Analytics and Adobe Analytics will even label you as a returning visitor when your second visit is less than two years after the first visit.

As Safari will now automatically delete most first-party cookies this time-frame will be reduced to seven days. There will be a big difference in labeling Safari users and visitors that use other browsers like Internet Explorer or Chrome. Not only Safari but also Firefox announced it will use enhanced tracking protection.

Consequences

So, what does ITP 2.1 exactly means for marketers? Well, it will definitely have an impact on how to analyze, target and personalize online experiences for Safari users. Let’s define a few consequences:

  • A/B Testing will only have seven days to test and track results. This time window might be too narrow to reach a sufficient sample. Users that visit less than weekly will be considered new visitors and could be assigned into a different test group. This might result in inaccurate tests.
  • Personalization will also be affected. Sites that use personalization tools based on past behavior and preferences, without login, will not have enough historical data to personalize content over a longer period. This means users will have inconsistent experiences when they visit sites with a time interval larger than seven days.
  • Attribution becomes difficult. With a look-back window limited to seven days marketers can’t attribute conversions that occur more than a week after a visit. Most likely the last-click model will be overvalued which makes it harder to truly evaluate the return on advertising spend.
  • DMP's may see an increased audience because new identifiers will be added that aren’t new. Marketers risk building audience segments based on incomplete data.
  • Web Analytics loses accuracy. Remember, a visitor will be forgotten after seven days so the number of unique visitor will increase for Safari users. When analyzing a website, you need to take this into account.

Next to this there will also be consequences for re-marketing, cross domain tracking, affiliate marketing, ... It will take more than a blog post to explain all the potential changes.

ITP 2.1 will make it harder to retarget Safari users.

Keep calm and analyze?

So, what’s next? First of all, you need to analyze how this will affect your current organization:

  • How important is historical user data to you? What’s the average time between user visits to your site?
  • How many Safari (and Firefox) users do you have and how is their share evolving?

It’s definitely worth to take the time to fully understand how ITP 2.1 will affect your specific situation. Once you do, we advise to inform all your analytics stakeholders and pay extra attention when reporting web analytics and campaign results. Your trusty analytics agency is, of course, there to assist on this matter ;).

Also, we advise you to offer experiences that make your users want to create accounts. Because authentication cookies are secure, they are immune to these changes. Websites will be able to track logged-in users past the seven-day time-frame. This will make your first party data even more valuable so offering a clear benefit for users in exchange for registering is a future proof strategy.

The future

At MultiMinds, we believe in the power of data but we also value the fundamental right to privacy. One can argue whether or not Apple’s concerns for your privacy are genuine but they clearly raised the bar and are likely to continue building in data tracking limiting features in their products.

Of course, we will follow up on this and inform you when needed. Should you have any questions regarding the impact of ITP 2.1 on your specific web analytics environment please contact us for a chat.