With Intelligent Tracking Prevention (ITP) moving from blocking 3rd party cookies to now blocking 1st party cookies after 7 days, digital media and analytics is being affected, and marketers need to understand the changes and ensure they’re not only making changes within their platforms to ensure better data of their current setup; but ensure they have a roadmap to deliver value in different ways from the norms of today. What are the implications of these changes today, and where is it heading tomorrow?

We’ve all heard about GDPR and probably appreciate that there’s more to come globally from governments who will be following the trend and enabling such regulations. There have also been some significant changes to browser privacy settings in recent years and more are expected to come.

Intelligent Tracking Prevention (ITP) was first launched in June 2017 via webkit.org and in time for the Safari updates of the time. This meant that not only would Safari block 3rd party cookies by default (cookies set by domains other than the ones of the websites users are on at the time), it would close the loophole the ad-tech industry has been using ever since, whereby 3rd party cookies could still be set if there was a 1st party cookie already in place. ITP has limited this considerably by firstly removing 3rd party cookies after a 24-hour grace period and now with ITP 2.0, announced in June 2018, removing them immediately if they are determined to be 3rd party tracking cookies. One of Google Marketing Platform’s Measurement Partners, Tune, has covered this well in a blog post here.

Firstly, 3rd party cookies are used by many ad tech vendors because view-through conversions are counted in this way. Secondly, remarketing or retargeting, is dependent on 3rd party cookies in many use cases. There is also a huge dependency of the overall ad-tech ecosystem on 3rd party cookies for matching between systems. The “connective tissue” as it’s sometimes referred to is based in a large part, on 3rd party cookies. With Safari having around 15% market share globally, this will impact marketers’ audience lists and reporting and all browsers offer settings to manage or block 3rd party cookies so it’s more than only a problem relating to Safari traffic. Mozilla has recently added fuel to the fire by announcing they’re looking at changing their approach to “anti-tracking”.

Google has managed ITP thus far with changes to tag practices and updating software and all marketers will need to ensure they’re upgrading the systems and tag management to ensure tracking continues to work. Google moved to the Global Site Tag for all their technologies and created the Conversion Linker in Google Tag Manager to ensure conversions were accurately counted from Safari traffic after the changes.

The 3rd party cookie restrictions could be impacting your marketing in many ways if it’s not being managed, for instance, your conversions for paid search, display and video, might not be accurate, your ad tech partners’ ability to execute their promises might be affected, your affiliate networks might be affected and your site analytics data might be affected, too. Using 3rd party data for media buying is certainly something with a shelf-life, in terms of cookie data, mobile device ID 3rd party data should be fine, so there’s clearly going to be a shift in focus of data-driven marketing from acquisition marketing becoming less data-driven and customer marketing becoming more data-driven. To get more value from that marketing where you have the data and it’s linked to 1st party cookies. Think less targeting in acquisition marketing and more targeting and more data-driven, customer marketing activity.

Now with ITP 2.1 restricting 1st party cookies, there’s a whole new wrath of disruption coming to the industry and all systems using 1st party cookies will only be able to keep them on Safari browsers for 7 days. Most affiliates close sales within 7 days and there’s plenty to be done in the wider industry within 7 days but what if your brand sees conversions within 30 or 90 days? Or your re-marketing from one channel to another is over a time-frame more than 7 days? ITP 2.1 is in Beta and I believe Mozilla is going to make a move soon enough and suddenly Chrome will be left having to make a call around this as well. Microsoft has stopped investing in Edge and rather is using Chrome’s engine now, so really the future of our industry is in the hands of three tech companies. One is on the privacy high-horse, the other is not-for-profit and the 3rd, is the biggest advertising business in the world.

Marketers need to engage their agencies, vendors and consultancies and ensure they are managing the changes, and they need to be able to articulate what to do from here on. Of course, no one really knows what to do right now with the ITP 2.1 update, companies like Adobe is yet to announce anything relating to the topic and its impact on their analytics platform, so don’t be too hard on your agencies. It always helps to start asking questions now and be ready for more changes to the digital marketing environment.