Why the plight of advertisers on Safari should interest content marketers

The impact of Safari’s privacy changes serves as a warning to digital marketers

With the release of iOS 11 in September 2017, Apple promised a controversial update for Safari: Intelligent Tracking Prevention (ITP).

Like a sort of miniature-GDPR, the feature is designed to protect privacy by reducing cross-site tracking of users – with all the associated implications for advertisers and data collectors.

As initiatives go, it’s not quite as dramatic as the all-encompassing behemoth that is GDPR, leaving in its wake data managers scrabbling around for “explicit consent” on ancient banks of names and email addresses.

But, for any site relying on programmatic advertising or considering it as a source of revenue, the consequences could be similar.

What’s happening?

Under the change, cookies, used to track web visitors across the sites they visit and tailor ads accordingly, can no longer be used for tracking 24 hours after the original interaction. If 30 days passes without another interaction, these cookies are purged altogether, preventing their use for measurement.

Given this is a recent development, and Safari commands a relatively small portion of browser traffic, the repercussions aren’t entirely clear just yet. But if the ability to retarget is compromised or lost altogether, it could dent revenues for publishers and overhaul digital advertising as we know it.

The case of Criteo

An article published on Ad Exchanger earlier in February highlighted how ITP has come as a shock to Criteo, one particularly poorly prepared ad tech firm. Its market ratings have taken a turn for the worse and projections on worst-case scenarios are getting progressively worse.

Much touted in the world of ad tech, Criteo’s first-price bidding model was lauded earlier in 2017 for its transparency compared with other programmatic vendors. But relying as it does on collecting cookies to retarget ads, commentators are concerned about the impact ITP is having already and the looming spectre of GDPR.

The implications of the latter remain uncertain, particularly as Criteo is looking into a workaround that will allow it to use an opt-in on one site for recognition across its network.

It’s also possible that the sudden cookie crackdown of ITP represents a more painful blow to a company like Criteo than the unwieldy reform promised by GDPR. But considering how ITP has caught the company off balance, it’s clear that the industry-wide crackdown on data-sharing practices is throwing out the rulebook on advertising.

Why this matters

We’ve written at length about programmatic, GDPR and the crossover between the two here on Content Desk.

Although ITP’s scope and remit are different, it’s a big development in the world of data collection and gives some indication of the impact GDPR could have.

Mobile traffic has already given some flavor of the potential downturn, with Apple’s refusal to share cookie data precipitating the growing gulf between the proportion of traffic devoted to mobile and the amount of revenue coming in from the source.

GDPR could be a lame duck, but it could also compound the problems that are already surfacing for publishers. Preparation is essential.

Criteo’s run-in with ITP (and imminent run-in with GDPR) is a good example of another phenomenon we have explored here on Content Desk: moral debt.

Up until now, web users have taken for granted ads following them around the internet. But now the free ride is coming to an end for ad tech vendors and publishers. Firms who have previously let unscrupulous practices slide could well be about to meet their day of reckoning.

Whatever happens, this is potentially good news for content marketers.

Content doesn’t need deceptive cookies and underhand tracking to reach consumers; it attracts them.

The growing trend towards an industry-wide data crackdown also raises question about whether print will see a resurgence, its old-fashioned charms gaining a new glean as they transcend the digital quagmire.

So take ITP as a warning: if you’re harbouring doubts about the dodginess of your data, don’t turn a blind eye. And know that in this difficult landscape for publishers, there’s one safe, surefire way to salvation: content.

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