Update: See our most recent ITP blog post for the latest developments.

Nearly two years after the first launch of ITP (Intelligent Tracking Prevention), Apple continues to iterate on their anti-tracking browser technology. With the upcoming updates to iOS and Safari on macOS, Apple will be releasing version ITP 2.2. This ITP update centers around tracking using link decoration in either parameters (after a ? mark) or fragments (after the # symbol). Generally each successive release has focused on one area or another that companies have used to attempt to work around the restrictions introduced by ITP.

With ITP 2.1 released earlier in 2019, ITP cracked down more heavily on first party cookies than in earlier iterations. In that release, all cookies created via document.cookie were capped at a life of 7 days. Coming on the heels of that, ITP 2.2 further reduces this cookie life to 1 day if the following two conditions are true:

  1. The traffic originated from a domain classified with cross-site tracking capabilities (major ad networks, Google and Facebook included, are certainly classified this way)
  2. The final URL of the navigation has a query string and/or fragment identifier

The first point above is detailed in earlier releases of ITP.

What Does This Mean for Advertisers?

Update: Read our post on calculating the impact of ITP on your marketing data.

Performance data you are collecting in your analytics systems and ad platforms will likely start to look weaker, in proportion to the fraction of your traffic from Safari. This is more pronounced for longer purchase consideration products. Let’s take a look at why:

Any cookies created via javascript on your site will be limited. This includes cookies created by analytics systems (Google Analytics for example), ad platforms (Google Ads, Facebook Ads, Bing Ads, DV360), and anything you may have deployed using document.cookie to persist parameter values throughout and across visits from a user. As many ad platforms add user specific information and then pass this into first party cookies on the domain, these cookies will expire after 1 day. Users who convert the same day as the click will be tracked the same as prior to this change. Anyone converting later will be tracked as a new visit, since the cookie is gone.

How Can I Get Around This?

The short answer is that you can’t, entirely, though there are some solutions we are monitoring. We have seen several suggestions to continue to track ad performance and user behavior on your sites. These vary significantly in the level of technical difficulty and would be something for your web development team to evaluate. In general, we would expect that the easier, client side changes are most likely to be addressed by a future iteration of ITP. Server side solutions (which are more complex) are most likely to be unaffected by future changes. Any of these approaches has limitations in that it is not the way most systems are designed to work. Any workaround is not a single step, and will require significant developer effort to function seamlessly.

Marketing Automation and Lead Tracking

Whether you are using a commercial marketing automation platform or have built out components of it yourself to use with a CRM, expect these changes to impact your ability to track the source of the traffic. As an example, assume that you drive traffic from an ad platform with the following URL:

https://www.services.com?source=publisher&campaign=prospecting

Any code on your landing page that writes the source and campaign values to a cookie is subject to the 1 day expiration. If your product or service typically sees repeat visits before filling out a form, this first visit information is likely lost. Lead generation multi-touch attribution systems (Bizible, RampMetrics) will be similarly affected, provided they use a cookie to identify the same user returning to the site. You’ll want to check with your marketing attribution provider to find out how you should expect to be impacted.

In the event that users are completing a form during the same session, you should be able to still leverage a cookie to keep track of the traffic source detail throughout navigation.

What Does the Future Hold?

In addition to these ITP 2.2 changes in Apple’s Safari browser, both Mozilla and even Google’s Chrome are said to be discussing comparable changes. As technology providers try to find work-arounds for Apple’s restrictions, Apple will continue to attempt to stifle tracking that they find objectionable, even if that makes a mess of how websites and website tracking currently operate. Many of the solutions around today may not remain viable for the long term. At Metric Theory, we continue to keep a close eye on this area and the implications it has for our clients, for marketing in general, and for the internet more broadly. For updates on future ITP news and implications for marketers, subscribe to our newsletter using the widget on the upper right of this page.