The Impact of ITP on Analytics and AMP

Apple released version 2.2 of its Intelligent Tracking Prevention (ITP) with iOS 12.3 May 13, 2019. ITP 2.2 is a beefed-up version of ITP 2.0 released in June 2018, a feature of Safari that restricts the tracking of website visitors using cookies. This limits advertisers’ and publishers’ ability to track and target users across domains. While ITP 2.0 only affected third-party cookies, ITP 2.2 affects both first-party and third-party cookies, making it significantly more difficult to track users as they move from site to site.

The new ITP update forces a 1-day expiry date on persistent first-party cookies set through the document.cookie method, if the following two conditions are true:

  1. The traffic originates from a domain classified with cross-site tracking capabilities (i.e. major ad networks, such as Google and Facebook, are classified this way); and 
  2. The final URL of the navigation has a query string and/or fragment (hash) identifier.

Given the role that cookies play in audience segmentation, attribution and measurement, ITP2 is highly disruptive to sellers, buyers and technology platforms. Since Safari users account for 35% of the US and 15% of the world’s market share of internet browsers, Apple’s persistent focus on maintaining user anonymity and privacy has significant consequences.

The Impact of ITP2 on the Ad Industry

With ITP2 in play, publishers are no longer able to efficiently target people who use Safari browser. This reduces the market value of ad inventory and ultimately affects ad-targeting success. Publishers have lost previously available source/medium data and are witnessing a surge in the number of unique web visitors because analytics tools are recording more unique visitors than before. Essentially, web visitors who don’t revisit a domain within 1 day may be counted as new users.

Aside from reducing the value of ad impression opportunities on in-app webview, desktop, and mobile browser environments, publishers are also struggling to provide engaging content and services as a result of ITP2. Losing the ability to properly track user activity across sites means that consumers see less engaging/relevant content and ads, due to inaccurate targeting and lack of personalization.

The entire ad-tech ecosystem has been affected by this. Vendors, marketers, and publishers are having to adjust their strategies to account for the restriction on user tracking. 

Impact on AMP

AMP is a web-component framework that creates fast and user-first experiences. The framework’s ability to guarantee speed comes through several mechanisms, including the AMP Cache (a proxy-based CDN to deliver content) and prerendering. 

When pages are fetched from the AMP Cache, the initial landing page has as the first-party domain, and the publisher’s domain as a third-party domain. This can lead to the user being assigned two different cookies and user ids, as users transition from AMP to the canonical site. Thankfully, AMP Linker provides a solution, which can be integrated into most analytics platforms, including Google Analytics. 

Mitigation strategies

To minimize the effect of the disruption caused by ITP2, marketers and publishers should implement the following long-term strategies.

Since ITP2 has minimal impact on short-term conversion tracking, web analytics, and other analytics processes, publishers should establish a first-party asset and continually refresh said asset (rather than relying on third-party syncing). They should look into using non-cookie-based technologies such as probabilistic and statistical approaches for user identification and impression valuation.

They can also protect and activate their data assets by developing a data strategy that uses first-party cookies and ID matching services to track conversions. This is done by matching the ID placed on users for their pageview with the advertiser’s ID from the conversion event. When data assets are onboarded into the ID, they can be read and activated against in bid streams.

Wrapping Up

For marketers and publishers, the ability to track user activities and conversions is critical to measuring the effectiveness of digital campaigns. It’s vital that you stay on top of software updates and regulations that impact the way you collect data.

ITP2 isn’t the first change to hit the digital ad industry nor will it be the last. You should look for a long-term solution that pacifies Apple’s perspective on privacy, while giving your organization’s measurement objectives the best chance of success.