First Look, first prize Busting Ad Spoofing with Ads.txt

Apple Throws a Spanner in the Works with Intelligent Tracking Prevention. When Apple announced version 11 of Safari at their Worldwide Developers Conference in June 2017, one big issue stood out for advertisers. Alongside features such as a new autoplay blockers and always-on reader view, there was the Intelligent Tracking Prevention. Intelligent Tracking Prevention is designed to limit the ability of third-party tracking to collect data on users. Within Safari, cookie tags will expire after 24 hours and be expunged after 30 days.

For advertisers this means that the remarking window for safari users will decrease to a 24-hour period, massively reducing cookie pools. It also means a drop conversions as cookies will only be attached to the user for 30 days. If a user visits your site after 30 days, this activity will not be registered.

Although desktop usage of Safari is low (US 10.39%, UK 9.82%, StatCounter, August 2017), mobile usage is massive (US 51.66%, UK 45.59%, StatCounter, August 2017), making it a serious issue that advertisers cannot ignore.

Apple’s new technology has already attracted criticism from six leading trade groups, including the IAB, who released an open letter stating Apple’s strategy was “opaque and arbitrary” and asked that Apple “rethink” launching the Safari update which blocks cross-site tracking. They argue that this will have a negative impact on the user as ads will become less relevant.

Apple has responded to the criticism by stating that ad companies are so prevalent online that they can generate a person’s web browsing history. Furthermore, the new update protects the user’s right to privacy and builds upon previous Safari attempts to block third-party cookies.

What’s Google Doing?

Google has tried to find a solution to Apple’s Intelligent Tracking Prevention that provides advertisers with accurate data.

For AdWords users that are only reporting on the AdWords conversion pixel, the solution is to link their AdWords account with Google Analytics and enable auto-tagging. This solution gives an accurate number of conversions.

This solution works because of Google’s new _gac cookie that will be set on the advertiser’s domain, making it a first-party cookie acceptable to ITP.

If a user can’t link their account or doesn’t enable auto-tagging, AdWords will use statistical modeling to estimate the website conversions that could not be measured from Safari and include that in their AdWords reporting.

Similar to those using Adwords, from the 20th of September DoubleClick will begin using statistical modeling to estimate website conversions that could not be measured from Safari, which will be included in DoubleClick Search reporting. Google will use machine learning and historical data to model the number of conversions that can’t be measured due to this change. It will work similarly to how Google and AdWords count cross-device conversions.

A Benefit to Google and Facebook

Due to the 24-hour exemption period, websites that have a large daily following can maintain their cookies. The two main players that could benefit are Google and Facebook. Google’s daily visits mean that it will keep its tracking capabilities and Facebook’s activity is mainly in-app. This has put adtech at a disadvantage with Criteo already seeing its share price drop and chief executive Eric Eichmann saying that the Apple’s policy “will create a challenge to the environment in general”.

What Should Advertisers Do?

Advertisers should start by reviewing their conversion data over the coming months to see if there has been a large increase or decrease in conversions. Within both AdWords and DoubleClick Search, it is possible to create two columns to report on actual conversions and model conversions. It would be recommended to review both columns and see what discrepancies there are. Version 11 was released on the 19th of September so that would be a good week to review discrepancies or fluctuations in conversions.

Advertisers should link their AdWords accounts and Google Analytics accounts and turn on auto-tagging. This will enable the Advertiser to report accurate non-model numbers.

Advertisers that are using remarketing should review the size of their cookie pools as there is expected to be a decrease in cookie pool sizes.

Lastly, be aware that this will not be the last attempt by a technology company to change the digital ecosystem. From early 2018 Google’s Chrome browser will have a plugin that will block ads that Google deems “annoy” the user. Advertisers must be aware of these constant changes.

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