What is Intelligent Tracking Prevention (ITP) and How Does It Impact Marketing?

Just when you thought you had a handle on the complex world of marketing and data collection, along comes a new boss to tackle, and this time it’s Intelligent Tracking Prevention (ITP). Unlike some, though this one is what one might be inclined to call a ‘doozy’ (as I believe the technical term goes), so ger ready for another wild ride, because we’re going to dive into the nitty-gritty of ITP, how it affects marketing tech and analytics, and how you can navigate this landscape in a way that respects your customers’ privacy.

What is Intelligent Tracking Prevention (ITP)?

ITP, or Intelligent Tracking Prevention, is a technology introduced by Apple to limit how advertisers and websites can track users across the web. It was initially launched as part of WebKit (the browser engine that powers Safari) in 2017 and has since undergone several iterations and updates, refining its features and mechanisms for protecting user privacy.

So what does ITP do? It’s like the bouncer at a wild tea house, determining who can come in and who needs to stay out. The “guests” in this case are cookies, small files websites store on your device to remember your preferences and track your activity. But unlike most tea parties, not all cookies are welcome (despite most going well with a good back tea).

Before ITP, Safari blocked third-party cookies by default. Third-party cookies are those placed by domains other than the one you’re visiting (hence, “third-party”). They’re often used by advertisers to track your browsing habits across different sites and serve you targeted ads. However, first-party cookies—those placed by the site you’re visiting—were generally left alone because they’re crucial for things like remembering your login status and shopping cart contents.

When First-Party Cookies Become Trackers

Here’s where things get interesting. It turns out that first-party cookies can also be used for tracking. For example, when you click on an ad, a cookie can be created by the advertising platform’s domain, and since you’ve interacted with that domain, Safari considers it a first-party cookie.

Apple and cookie battle, generated by Bing Creator

This allows the ad platform to track you across the web and serve personalized ads. A bit sneaky, right? Apple thought so too, and that’s where ITP comes in​.

How Does ITP Work?

To counter this sneaky use of first-party cookies, ITP uses a machine-learning model to figure out which domains have the ability to track users across sites. If it identifies a potential tracking cookie, it blocks it unless you explicitly give the site permission to use it (through something called the Storage Access API).

In the first versions of ITP (1.0 and 1.1), there were some allowances for first-party cookies to behave as trackers under certain conditions. For instance, if you visited the ad platform’s website within 24 hours of clicking the ad, the cookie it created could function as a third-party tracker. However, this is pretty unlikely, since most people don’t make a habit of visiting ad platform websites. After 24 hours without a visit to the ad platform site, the cookie is blocked from third-party use. After 30 days without interaction, all cookies from the tracking domain are purged.

With ITP 2.0 and subsequent versions, Apple tightened the screws on cross-site tracking even more. Notably, the 24-hour window, which allowed first-party cookies to behave as trackers, was eliminated. This change virtually erased the loophole that allowed third-party entities to exploit first-party cookies for tracking purposes.

This has substantial implications for digital marketers and advertising platforms. With the reduced cookie lifespan and the stricter limits on first-party cookies, traditional methods of tracking, targeting, and retargeting users have become significantly more challenging. It also affects conversion attribution, as marketers may not be able to accurately attribute conversions to specific ads or user interactions.

Rethinking Marketing Strategies: Privacy-First Approach

However, the rise of ITP isn’t the end for digital marketing; rather, it’s a new beginning. It’s a push towards a more privacy-conscious, user-centric approach to marketing and analytics. It’s about finding new ways to reach audiences and measure success without infringing on user privacy.

First-party data, for instance, becomes a crucial asset in this new landscape. By building strong relationships with users and collecting data directly from them (with their consent), marketers can gain valuable insights and target their audiences more effectively. This approach not only aligns with the privacy-first trend but also helps build trust and loyalty with users.

In addition, alternative tracking methods, such as server-side tracking, are worth exploring. Unlike client-side tracking that happens in the user’s browser, server-side tracking happens on your server, making it less susceptible to ITP restrictions.

Contextual advertising is another strategy to consider. By targeting ads based on the content of a web page, rather than the user’s past behavior, marketers can still reach relevant audiences without the need for extensive tracking.

Preparing for the Future: Embracing Privacy

As marketers, it’s essential to embrace these changes and adapt. The future is privacy-focused, and the sooner we align with it, the better prepared we’ll be.

Invest in privacy-compliant technologies and partnerships with companies that prioritize privacy. Rethink your strategies around first-party data and consider alternative methods of tracking and targeting. Explore the possibilities of contextual advertising and other privacy-friendly advertising strategies.

In this era of privacy-conscious users and stringent tracking prevention measures, the key to success lies in striking the right balance between effective marketing and respect for user privacy. As we navigate this new terrain, let’s see it as an opportunity to innovate and build better, more respectful relationships with our audiences.

Final Thoughts (and Hot Take)

In the world of technology, change is indeed the only constant. It’s a domain defined by relentless innovation and rapid evolution. As marketers, our survival and success hinge on our ability to adapt and evolve in tandem with these shifts. Today, as we journey into the Intelligent Tracking Prevention (ITP)-dominated future, this aptitude for adaptation is more vital than ever before.

ITP, with its stringent privacy measures, brings undeniable challenges. Traditional tactics of ad targeting, retargeting, and conversion attribution have been disrupted. The rules of the game have changed, and this shift can seem intimidating. But remember, it is in the face of adversity that we have the opportunity to truly shine.

Embracing this ITP-dominated landscape means viewing it not just as a host of challenges, but also as a wellspring of opportunities. It’s a chance to reimagine our marketing strategies with a privacy-first approach, to build stronger, more transparent relationships with our audiences, and to explore innovative ways of reaching our goals that respect user privacy.

The future of marketing in an ITP-dominated world is about more than just surviving—it’s about thriving. It’s about leveraging first-party data, exploring alternative tracking methods like server-side tracking, and harnessing the power of contextual advertising. It’s about investing in privacy-compliant technologies and partnering with companies that prioritize user privacy.

In essence, this new era is about evolving our marketing strategies to create a balance between effectiveness and respect for privacy. It calls for us to innovate, to think outside the box, and to place our audiences at the heart of everything we do.

As we embrace this future, let’s remember that every challenge is an opportunity in disguise. The ITP-dominated landscape is not a hurdle but a stepping stone towards a more privacy-respectful and user-centric world of marketing. It’s our chance to set new standards, to lead the way, and to shine brighter than ever before.

So here’s to the future – a future where marketing and privacy not only coexist but thrive together. It’s a future we can shape, a future we can look forward to, and most importantly, a future where we, as marketers, continue to evolve, adapt, and shine.

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I'm a Technology Consultant who partners with visionary people who want to solve human problems using data and technology (and having fun doing it)!


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🎉 Nice work, that was a long article!