Apple introduces ad tracking restrictions feature within iOS 11

Apple recently launched the latest release of its mobile operating system, iOS 11, which includes a new feature called intelligent tracking prevention (ITP). The feature has been designed to limit the ability of advertising platforms and website owners to track users across domains, thanks to its machine learning capability to identify tracking behaviours on Safari and to impose a 24-hour time limit on those tracking tools, deleting a site's cookie entirely if the user doesn't revisit for 30 days. Apple states that its cookie blocking technology will improve trust among users, while advertisers are arguing that it will make ads more generic, less timely and less useful.

User privacy vs effective online advertising

With the new feature coming under fire from advertisers across the industry, Apple has reiterated the importance of user privacy, highlighting that 'Safari was the first browser to block third-party cookies by default and Intelligent Tracking Prevention is a more advanced method for protecting user privacy. (…) 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. This information is collected without permission and is used for ad re-targeting, which is how ads follow people around the Internet.'

The Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) and the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) have stated that 'Apple's unilateral and heavy-handed approach is bad for consumer choice and bad for the ad-supported online content and services consumers love, 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.'

Advertisers fear that this move from Apple will decimate business for smaller advertising companies, while internet behemoths Facebook and Google will remain unharmed, as often users stay logged in to company services, making Safari's ad blocking technology ineffective against them - all at a time when the two companies already control more than 90% of ad spend online.

What's the impact on digital activity?

According to StatCounter, Safari is used by 14.9% of all internet users, so the new change could result in a significant reduction in the reach and efficiency of retargeting activity. On the other hand, the cost to reach Safari users via digital advertising could reduce, as brands move away from the browser due to decreased targeting accuracy and effectiveness.

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