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Sep 25 · 6 min read

Affiliate Marketing and Apple’s Intelligent Tracking Prevention

What does the future hold for affiliate marketing when one of the largest software and hardware providers prevents effective tracking?

The latest version of Apple’s operating system, iOS 11, is available this week but it’s a new default feature in Apple’s software for the Safari web browser dubbed “intelligent tracking prevention” that is causing such heated debate and making many in the advertising sector wonder how it will affect advertising revenue and also analytics on the web to effectively measure Return on Ad Spend.

The feature, which is called “Intelligent Tracking Prevention,” and limits how advertisers and websites can track users across the internet by putting in place a 24-hour limit on ad retargeting.

One of the largest trade groups for online advertising is the Internet Advertising Bureau or IAB. They and many others have stated they are “deeply concerned” with Apple’s plans to release a version of the Safari internet browser that overrides and replaces user cookie preferences with a set of Apple-controlled standards.

The group have penned an open letter to Apple which was also signed by the Data and Marketing Association and the Network Advertising Initiative:

September 14, 2017

An Open Letter from the Digital Advertising Community

The undersigned organizations are leading trade associations for the digital advertising and marketing industries, collectively representing thousands of companies that responsibly participate in and shape today’s digital landscape for the millions of consumers they serve.

We are deeply concerned about the Safari 11 browser update that Apple plans to release, as it overrides and replaces existing user-controlled cookie preferences with Apple’s own set of opaque and arbitrary standards for cookie handling.

Safari’s new “Intelligent Tracking Prevention” would change the rules by which cookies are set and recognized by browsers. In addition to blocking all third-party cookies (i.e. those set by a domain other than the one being visited), as the current version of Safari does, this new functionality would create a set of haphazard rules over the use of first-party cookies (i.e. those set by a domain the user has chosen to visit) that block their functionality or purge them from users’ browsers without notice or choice.

The infrastructure of the modern Internet depends on consistent and generally applicable standards for cookies, so digital companies can innovate to build content, services, and advertising that are personalized for users and remember their visits. Apple’s Safari move breaks those standards and replaces them with an amorphous set of shifting rules that will hurt the user experience and sabotage the economic model for the Internet.

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. Put simply, machine-driven cookie choices do not represent user choice; they represent browser-manufacturer choice. As organizations devoted to innovation and growth in the consumer economy, we will actively oppose any actions like this by companies that harm consumers by distorting the digital advertising ecosystem and undermining its operations.

We strongly encourage Apple to rethink its plan to impose its own cookie standards and risk disrupting the valuable digital advertising ecosystem that funds much of today’s digital content and services.

Signed,

American Association of Advertising Agencies (4A’s)

American Advertising Federation (AAF)

Association of National Advertisers (ANA)

Data & Marketing Association (DMA)

Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB)

Network Advertising Initiative (NAI)

How will this affect affiliate marketers and affiliate networks?

The first-party cookies that previously lasted forever will now expire within 24 hours while deleting a site’s cookies entirely if the user doesn’t visit the site for 30 days.

For affiliate marketers and networks relying on the ability to track the consumer journey, Intelligent Tracking Prevention could render a percentage of consumers untrackable or at least compromise the integrity and accuracy of the tracking.

The real impact will be on display and the retargeting industry, while first-party tracking may not have any issues within the 30-day window and tracking activity within 24 hours should be (relatively) unaffected but the true damage can only be assessed over time.

For demand-side platform’s that buy inventory for the purpose of retargeting, the downside could be fewer people buying Safari inventory on exchanges, causing an increase in CPMs across other browsers.

What can be done to keep on tracking?

Advertisers will need to revisit their tracking setup or speak to their network representative or account manager and potentially update their network tracking — first-party/cookieless/server-to-server etc.

Advertisers along with their affiliate network partners will need to investigate the overall impact of using third-party reliant attribution platforms, such as Doubleclick or any other form of attribution tracking — which are widely used, as they could be employed solutions that will be the most affected by this update and the reliability of their data could become compromised. Zane McIntyre, CEO of Commission Factory stated:

“This update doesn’t come as any surprise to us and was announced back when Apple first gave a preview of iOS 11 and MacOS High Sierra. Whilst it means we have to review how we do things at Commission Factory, we came up with a solution some time ago and have already been asking our Advertisers to start making changes to their tracking setup so as to have as little upset to our tracking as possible.”

The affiliate industry has become accustomed to this level of upset in the industry and has not succumbed to a state of panic but a more “wait and see” attitude as the effects will be gradual and over time and allow for technology providers to determine other or enhanced methods of tracking and attribution.

Update: Since rolling out our updates to Advertisers, Commission Factory is already recording transactions that may otherwise have been missed due to ITP. We are recording these in our database so as to assess the situation at a later date.

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