In the past few years, Apple have been pushing the limits of user privacy in their products and services. It seems as that now they are ready to push the envelope even further.
Early in June 2017, at the annual WWDC conference, Apple announced new updates to their popular browser Safari including blocking auto-play videos, native content blockers and a setting to open the pages in reader mode by default. All of these features will no doubt benefit the end users and also help marketers create more immersive ways to engage with visitors with content. However, perhaps the biggest update from marketers’ point of view was a new feature called Intelligent Tracking Prevention.
Apple has already provided an extensive guide on how the feature works on their WebKit blog. However, we will try to explain the implications of this feature for marketeers.
What is Intelligent Tracking Prevention?
For a very long time, Safari’s underlying browser engine WebKit has been pushing for features to reduce user tracking, via third-party cookie blocking. Intelligent Tracking Prevention expands the tracking limitations to a new limit by reducing cross-domain tracking through limited cookie and website data storage.
In essence, if a tracking script by Company A is loaded on two separate domains, lets call them Domain A and Domain B; Company A has the ability to track visitor interactions across these two domains. This gives the Company A the ability to understand user behaviour and interests with the purpose of providing them further recommendations through advertising. This practice is dubbed as Cross Domain Tracking.
How Does It Work?
Intelligent Tracking Prevention uses machine learning to understand whether a user has genuine interest in the website that is tracking user interactions cross-domain.
Let’s consider a scenario where a Facebook Pixel is implemented across two separate domains to track user interactions for remarketing purposes. A Facebook cookie is initialised on the user browser after user visits Domain A. If, within 24 hours of the initialisation, the user visits Facebook website; the system assigns a classifier to the Facebook Pixel as a valid tracker because the user has shown interest in Facebook. After this point, Facebook Pixel continues to track cross-domain user interactions with no blocking.
However, there are also cases where the user won’t have any interest in the domain which provides tracking cookies. For instance, if a shady third-party tracker initialises a cookie on user’s browser, and the user doesn’t visit the tracker’s website within 24 hours of cookie initialisation; system recognises that the user is not interested in that website and blocks cross-domain tracking. If the user doesn’t at all visit the tracker domain within 30 days, cookies are purged.
What Does It Mean for Marketeers?
With the launch of a variety of web analytics tools readily available to marketeers, it has so far created great benefits for them to better understand user needs, interactions and interests. However, tracking too much about the visitors have ramifications on both in terms of site load speed and user privacy. It also doesn’t help from a user experience when website load as much as 700 (you’ve read it right) trackers on a single page load, as identified by Kaspersky analysis.
Safari’s new feature will have benefits for end users, but there are also a few points it might impact web developers’ ability to streamline their user experiences and marketing efforts.
Single Sign-On Via Google, Facebook or Twitter
For websites that has user account management, social sign-ons have provided benefits for websites to streamline and speed up the log-in process. This method works through authenticating user’s social profiles via cookies.
The 24-hour exemption period applies here as well, meaning that once the user authenticates their login through Facebook; as long as they visit Facebook within 24 hours, there won’t be any risk of cookie partition or need for reauthentication. Failing that, user will need to be reauthenticated at each visit to the website which offers single sign-on functionality.
A lot of businesses now rely heavily on remarketing with the purpose of more precise targeting towards the audience who has already shown some interest in their products/services. Leading tech companies and social media platforms have already launched their remarketing tags making it easy to track customers cross-domain.
The 24-hour exemption period becomes very crucial with remarketing for two reasons. One, it ensures that the remarketing tags of popular websites (such as Google, Facebook and Twitter) will continue to function as normal as it’s highly likely that the users will visit these websites on a daily basis. Two, it disadvantages remarketing tags of other companies which specialises on user tracking (such as Criteo) as it will be unlikely that a user will at all go to Criteo website within the 24 hours or even 30 days window.
Web analytics are often tracked within a single domain; without any need for cross-site domain. Therefore popular analytics softwares such as Google Analytics will continue to function with no risk of being blocked by the browser. However, when it is necessary to carry over the session information onto a second domain; you will need to set up cross-domain tracking by enabling link decoration on outbound links to the second domain.
Google has some guidelines for setting up cross-domain tracking with link decoration for their Analytics platform, so take a look at it for some guidance.
WebKit recommends setting up server side storage for attribution instead of relying on browser cookies; so some backend work might be needed to set this up without risking cookie blocking. Similar to web analytics, you can also make use of link decoration, where specific parameters are passed onto the second domain to maintain the session carryover.