Digiday: Apple’s Latest Anti-Tracking Changes Present Fresh Headache for Publishers

Andrew Casale on stage

Apple may have offered a brief reprieve before it implements its latest IDFA-related app-privacy changes, but its latest iOS 14 update still comes with two new surprise anti-tracking features that once again have the potential to further disrupt publishers’ ad businesses.

In the new update, which went live on September 16, Apple’sIntelligent Tracking Prevention feature —which blocks cross-site tracking on Safari —is switched on by default for all browsers. Further down the pike, Apple will also roll out a change that reflects a relatively new ITP workaround.

Apple did not respond to requests for comment.

While many non-Apple browsers like Brave and Firefox already have built-in anti-tracking features, this new update also affects the world’s most popular browser, Google’s Chrome. While Apple is still working through some kinks that have allowed third-party cookies to work in some instances when the feature is switched on, all browsers on iOS and iPad OS will have ITP switched on by the end of the year.

Some 55.2% of Mac OS users are on Chrome, which has a 4.9% share of the iOS browser market, according to Netmarketshare. The vast majority, 93.1%, of iPhone users opt for Apple’s Safari, while 37.9% of Mac users browse the web on Apple’s browser. (Mac only has a 9.4% share of the desktop operating system market.) At present, ITP only affects Safari on MacOS, however in the next software version —Big Sur, expected at some point later this year —ITP will affect any iOS app, according to Cory Underwood, a platform engineer at data company Search Discovery.

As with all of Apple’s recent privacy updates, the latest ITP tightening is likely to negatively affect publisher revenue as they will have less information about visitors to their websites who use Apple devices.

“The impact on a given publisher is dependent on how much share of each OS they have on their site,” said Paul Bannister, chief strategy officer at Cafe Media. “These are all definitely data points that each publisher should understand about their audience so they can anticipate and measure the impact.”

CPMs for Safari users have fallen off by around 60% since ITP was introduced in 2017, according to ad tech firm Index Exchange.

Ad rates on Safari still haven’t improved some three years later, said Andrew Casale, Index Exchange CEO, who added that if Chrome performed similarly on Apple devices, CPMs would drop at the same level for that subset of users.

“Marketers are [still] spending their money and growing their budgets, but they’re just not spending it on the open web,” said Casale. “They’re taking that money and moving it into [walled gardens]. It’s scary when these changes happen: It’s not that money isn’t being spent —it’s being moved somewhere else.”

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