Apple’s Cookie-Blocking Update Causes Publishers More Pain

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Apple has positioned itself as a champion of user privacy, and this week it announced the full blocking of third-party cookies in its web browser Safari, two years ahead of rival offering Google Chrome.  

It’s the latest move in the rollout of its intelligent tracking prevention plan, and closes earlier loopholes in Apple’s cross-site tracking policies and will cause publishers further difficulty in monetizing Safari users.

Apple WebKit engineer John Wilander said inhibiting third-party web tracking will enhance user privacy by preventing earlier Intelligent Tracking Prevention (ITP) workarounds from ad-tech companies popularly known as “fingerprinting” that can enable cross-site tracking.

This marks the first full implementation of third-party cookie blocking by a major browser provider—Safari has an 18% share of the global market—with Wilander claiming that it will “pave the way for other browsers.” Apple plans to report its experience to privacy watchdog groups, including web standards body W3C.

The update builds on earlier ITP iterations and creates difficulty by clamping down on software workarounds that create persistent user IDs, particularly those that use LocalStorage to claim they are not cookie-dependent.

Ana Milicevic, co-founder and principal at consultancy Sparrow Advisers, said, “Some companies say they don’t have a cookie solution [to ITP] as they write everything in LocalStorage, but now they’ve limited those solutions to seven days.”

She added, “This has been on the roadmap for a while, so I hope that publishers are shifting to contextual advertising to lessen the ability to target users behaviorally in the browser.”

Apple’s blocking of third-party cookies by default arrives two years before Google does likewise in its Chrome browser, a move that will have an even more profound impact on the ad industry given its 65% market share.

Ratko Vidakovic, founder of AdProfs, added, “Apple obviously takes pride in this and will use it as an opportunity to brag as being the first mainstream browser to block cookies by default.

“The reason Google gave a two-year timeframe was to provide enough time for alternatives to third-party cookies, whereas Safari has done precious little to consider the needs of the advertising ecosystem.”

The latest iteration of ITP was also announced the same day that Firefox provider Mozilla (which has a 5% market share) announced a pilot scheme with Scroll that would devise alternative revenue models to behaviorally targeted ads for publishers.

Dubbed Firefox Better Web with Scroll, the initiative asks Firefox users to subscribe to a service that uses its enhanced tracking prevention, which likewise blocks third-party cookies by default, to strip tacking software. Users are then offered an ad-free experience, with the subsequent revenue distributed to publisher partners, which include Business Insider, USA Today, The Verge and Vox, based on the time they spend on each site.

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