A Less Technical Guide to Apple’s ITP 2.1 Changes
Demystified Partner Tim Patten also contributed to this blog post.
There are likely very few analysts and developers that have not yet heard that Apple recently introduced some major changes into its Safari web browser. A recent version of Apple’s Intelligent Tracking Protocol (ITP 2.1) has the potential to fundamentally change the way business is done and analyzed online, and this has a lot of of marketers quite worried about the future of digital analytics. You may have noticed that we at Demystified have been pretty quiet about the whole thing – as our own Adam Greco has frequently reminded us over the past few weeks. This isn’t because Kevin, Tim, and I don’t have some strong opinions about the whole thing, or some real concerns about what it means for our industry. Rather, it’s based on 2 key reasons:
- Apple has released plenty of technical details about ITP 2.1 – what problems Apple sees and is trying to solve, what the most recent versions of Safari do to solve these problems, and what other restrictions may lie ahead. What’s more, the Measure Slack community has fostered robust discussion on what ITP 2.1 means to marketers, and we wholeheartedly endorse all the discussion taking place there.
- ITP 2.1 is a very new change, and a very large shift – and we’ve all seen that the leading edge of a technological shift sometimes ends up being a bit ahead of its time. While discussing the potential implications of ITP 2.1 with clients and peers, we have been taking a bit of a “wait and see” approach to the whole thing. We’ve wanted to see not just what other browsers will do (follow suit like Firefox? hold steady like Chrome?), but what the vendors impacted by these changes – and that our clients care most about – will decide to do about them.
Now that the dust has settled a bit, and we’ve moved beyond ITP 2.1 to even more restrictions with ITP 2.2 (which lowers the limit from seven days to one if the URL contains query parameters mean to pass IDs from one domain to another), we feel like we’re on a little bit firmer footing and prepared to discuss some of the details with our clients. As Tim and I talked about what we wanted to write, we landed on the idea that most of the developers we talk to have a pretty good understanding about what Apple’s trying to do here – but analysts and marketers are still somewhat in the dark. So we’re hoping to present a bit of a “too long, didn’t read” summary of ITP 2.1. A few days from now, we’ll share a few thoughts on what we think ITP 2.1 means for most of the companies we work with, that use Adobe or Google Analytics, and are wondering most about what it means for the data those vendors deliver. If you feel like you’re still in the dark about cookies in general, you might want to review a series of posts I wrote a few years ago about why they are important in digital marketing. Alternatively, if you find yourself more interested in the very technical details of ITP, Simo Ahava had a great post that really drilled into how it works.
What is the main problem Apple is trying to solve with ITP?
Apple has decided to take a much more proactive stance on protecting consumer privacy than other companies like Facebook or Google. ITP is its plan for these efforts. Early versions of ITP released through its Safari web browser revolved primarily around limiting the spread of third-party cookies, which are generally agreed upon to be intrusive. Basically, Safari limited the amount of time a third-party cookie could be stored unless the user interacted with the site that set the cookie and it was obvious he or she had an interest in the site.
Advertisers countered this effort pretty easily by coming up with ways to pass IDs between domains through the query string, grabbing values from third-party cookies and rewriting them as first-party cookies, and so forth. So Apple has now tightened controls even further with ITP 2.1 – though the end goal of protecting privacy remains the same.
What is different about ITP 2.1?
What does this mean for my analytics data?
The side effect of this decision is that website analytics tracking is potentially placed on the same footing as online advertising. Google Analytics sets its unique client ID cookie in this way – as does Adobe Analytics for many implementations. While it may be difficult for a non-developer to understand the details of ITP 2.1, it’s far easier to understand the impact on data quality when user identification is reset so frequently.
If you think this seems a bit heavy-handed on Apple’s part, you’re not alone. But, unfortunately, there’s not a lot that we as analysts and developers can do about it. And Apple’s goal is actually noble – online privacy and data quality should be a priority for each of us. The progressive emphasis by Apple is a result of so many vendors seeking out workarounds to stick with the status quo rather than coming up with new, more privacy-focused ways of doing business online.
Before you decide that ITP 2.1 is the end of analytics or your career as you know it, there are some things to think about that might help you talk yourself off the ledge. You can put your data to the test to see how big of a deal ITP is for you:
- How much of your traffic comes from mobile devices? Apple is the most common manufacture of mobile devices, so if you have a lot of mobile traffic, you should be more concerned with ITP.
- How much of your traffic comes from webkit browsers (Safari being by far the largest)? Safari still has a pretty small share of desktop web traffic – but makes up a much larger share of mobile traffic because it is the default browser on iOS devices. While other browsers like Firefox have shown signs they might follow Apple’s lead, there still isn’t a critical mass of other browsers giving the indication they intend to implement the same restrictions.
- Does your website have a high frequency of return visits? If your user base returns to the site very frequently within a 7-day window, the impact to you may be relatively low (though Apple also appears to be experimenting with a window as low as 1 day).
After reading all of these questions, you may still be convinced ITP 2.1 is a big deal for your organization – and you’re probably right. Unique visitor counts will likely be inflated, and attribution analytics will be heavily impacted if the window is capped at 7 days – and these are just the most obvious effects of the changes. There are several different paths you can take from here – some of which will reduce or eliminate your problems, and others that will ignore it and hope it goes away. We’ll follow up later this week to describe these options – and specifically how they relate to Adobe and Google Analytics, since they are the tools most of our clients rely on to run their businesses.