Safari adblocking

Advertisers bite into Apple over new ad-blockers in Safari 11

16th October 2017 - 7 minutes read  General News
John Stuchfield - Head of Paid Search

Major digital advertising and marketing organisations have condemned Apple’s plan to introduce cookie-blocking technology into the new version of Safari 11, saying it’ll “hurt the user experience and sabotage the economic model of the internet.”

Safari blocking ads

What’s all the fuss about Apple’s update? Here’s the short of it; cookies operate on users’ Safari browsers as they always have, but a new feature, called “Intelligent Tracking Prevention” (ITP) limits how advertisers and websites can track users across the internet by placing a 24-hour limit on ad retargeting. This marks a big leap from previous conditions, under which marketers and ad-tech companies could access cookies’ data for 30 days.

Google has also made a move on the adblocking market, testing a built-in adblocker for its Chrome browser, which is used by 54.9% of all internet users according to StatCounter. The feature blocks what the company calls “intrusive ads” like auto-playing video and audio, popups which block content and more.

Six trade groups—the Interactive Advertising Bureau, American Advertising Federation, the Association of National Advertisers, the 4A’s and others are “deeply concerned” with Apple’s plans. In an letter, published by AdWeek, the six disgruntled groups write that Apple’s update as “unilateral and heavy-handed approach is bad for consumer choice and bad for the ad-supported online content and services consumers love.” They also warn that the changes could affect the “infrastructure of the modern internet,” which largely relies on consistent standards across websites.

ITP will likely lead to consumers seeing fewer ads for goods they’ve already purchased, which doesn’t sound too bad does it? But, naturally, marketers are far from happy as it’s likely to create chaos for them in trying to determine the results of their mobile advertising ads. As the six groups write, “blocking cookies in this manner will drive a wedge between brands and their customers, and it will make advertising more generic and less timely and useful.”

Safari 11 adblocking

Apple’s defense

When it first announced in June, Apple said the changes are meant to improve trust with consumers, explaining that “users feel that trust is broken when they are being tracked and privacy-sensitive data about their web activity is acquired for purposes that they never agreed to.”

Apple has since defended the new ad tracking prevention as part of its commitment to user privacy. In a statement given to The Verge, Apple said: “Safari was the first browser to block third-party cookies by default and ITP is a more advanced method for protecting user privacy. The new ITP feature detects and eliminates cookies and other data used for this cross-site tracking, which means it helps keep a person’s browsing private. The feature does not block ads or interfere with legitimate tracking on the sites that people actually click on and visit. Cookies for sites that you interact with function as designed, and ads placed by web publishers will appear normally. Ad tracking technology has become so pervasive that it is possible for ad tracking companies to recreate the majority of a person’s web browsing history.”

Without a doubt, Apple has been a powerful advocate for user privacy in recent years, as reflected by their support for encryption, the intelligent processing of user data on device rather than in the cloud, and limitations on ad tracking on mobile and desktop. It’s been estimated Apple handles 30% of all pages on mobile.

Not everyone has been so critical of the new feature and some industry experts have been more flattering about the update. For example, Jason Kint, CEO of Digital Content Next, an online publishing group said “While this may not be a perfect solution, I applaud Apple’s efforts to more closely align with context and consumer expectations.”

The Electric Frontier Foundation (EFF) write that Apple is taking an important step to protect user privacy and instead of focusing on how the new feature will impact on the so-called ‘economic model’ of the internet, the conversation must focus on the “indiscriminate tracking of users and the violation of their privacy.”

“Rather than attacking Apple for serving their users, the advertising industry should treat this as an opportunity to change direction and develop advertising models that respect (and not exploit) users,” write EFF

What’s Google’s solution?

Google has moved speedily to counteract any potential negative impacts to its analytics and advertising capabilities.

Google Adwords: these will begin to use statistical modelling (via historical data and machine learning) to account for data that can’t be directly measured. Modelled conversions won’t be applicable for display, video, AdSense, view-through or cross-device conversions. So we recommended that you monitor volume is monitored over the coming months, especially activity that is being optimised by an AdWords bid strategy. You might need to adjust your targets to compensate for the underreported conversions.

Gooogle analytics: Google have released a new GA cookie, which means that if an AdWords account is linked to GA and Auto-tagging is enabled then Google will be able to track AdWords activity much more accurately. This solution will be automatically offered to all advertisers, but there is an option to opt-out.

It’s yet to be seen whether how other search engine giants like Bing and Yahoo will combat the changes. But presumably platform updates in AdWords, GA and DS will be alleviating the main concerns that were raised.