Apple's Intelligent Tracking Prevention: What do we know so far?

09 June 2017

At the WWDC conference on 5th June, Craig Federighi, Apple’s SVP of software engineering announced the launch of their new Safari feature: Intelligent Tracking Prevention. According to Federighi, this feature will use machine learning technology to block third-party ad trackers in a bid to outwit the digital stalkers. At the same time Google quietly announced its own in-browser blocker, aimed at blocking “obnoxious” ads.

How will it affect the user?

We’ve all been there. You looked at one item on Amazon three weeks ago and the display ads have been relentless ever since. The update will essentially prevent all those ads which stalk you from one website to the next as you browse the web.

Apple and Google can’t ban these third-party cookies altogether, as it would create a big headache for those users who sign into other websites using Google or Facebook accounts. Therefore, cookies can still be used for cross-site tracking in the first 24 hours of visiting a particular website, so users may still notice some ecommerce retargeting immediately after viewing an item. After this time, Safari, for instance, will automatically partition the cookies for login purposes only.

To further combat irritating and repetitive display ads, Apple announced that Safari will also be blocking auto-play video ads. Users will have to opt-in to watch the video by pressing play, otherwise the ad will remain paused and be prevented from interrupting the overall user experience.

How will it affect the advertiser?

We’ve all been there. You looked at one item on Amazon three weeks ago and the display ads have been relentless ever since. The update will essentially prevent all those ads which stalk you from one website to the next as you browse the web.

Apple and Google can’t ban these third-party cookies altogether, as it would create a big headache for those users who sign into other websites using Google or Facebook accounts. Therefore, cookies can still be used for cross-site tracking in the first 24 hours of visiting a particular website, so users may still notice some ecommerce retargeting immediately after viewing an item. After this time, Safari, for instance, will automatically partition the cookies for so that they can be used for login purposes only.

To further combat irritating and repetitive display ads, Apple announced that Safari will also be blocking auto-play video ads. Users will have to opt-in to watch the video by pressing play, otherwise the ad will remain paused and be prevented from interrupting the overall user experience.

Will it slow down the growth of online advertising?

Firstly, note that Safari has less only 10-15% share of the desktop browser market, so the overall impact of this change will be limited – unless of course other browsers adopt similar blocking technology (as Google has done with its Chrome ad blocker. On mobile of course, Safari dominates with over 50% share, so that is the key area to watch. Overall spending on digital ads has long surpassed spending on television advertising and this shows no sign of slowing down. These changes are unlikely to change that, although if widely adopted advertisers will need to find new and cleverer way to track and reach their audiences . Morgan Stanley analysts predict that Facebook will benefit through its Instagram and Messenger apps, in a similar way to how Google will benefit through YouTube.

Our view

As noted above, we think that Apple (and possibly Google) are overstepping the mark with these new features. Yes, some ads can be intrusive, but we’re not convinced that browsers who occupy a key gateway position on the internet, should be dictating which ads consumers see. In effect they are acting as censors.