Apple’s Safari browser is used by over half of Americans and over a fifth of the worlds mobile internet browsers, so when the iPhone maker announced two years ago that it would stop websites from tracking users around the internet there was widespread criticism in the industry – now a new report sheds light on what happened.

Apple's Intelligent Tracking Prevention feature – launched in September 2017 – blocks the use of cookies and tracking software on its Safari browser altogether.

Basically, The Information reports, Apple’s Intelligent Tracking Prevention technology has been extremely effective in limiting websites’ ability to know what else users are up to on the web, but with some unintended consequences to what advertising bodies had criticised as Apple’s “unilateral and heavy-handed approach”.

On programmatic exchanges, due to a lack of tracking capability, the cost of reaching a Safari user has fallen by more than 60%, according to the Rubicon Project. The inability to target Safari users in specific demographics has diminished their “allure” in auctions.

But the story is something of a microcosm of the entire short-term, low-price advertising ecosystem that many brands have begun to move away from. Though The Information’s reporting indicates that ad prices on Google Chrome (used by roughly 79% of US desktop users, and around 41% of US mobile users) have risen slightly, it’s because of tracking ease rather than the quality of the impression. Some experts suggest that Apple’s users have been “wrongly devalued”.

“Apple users are more valuable [to advertisers] based on demographics, being higher income et cetera,” noted Jason Kint, CEO at Digital Content Next, a trade association.

Some ad tech companies have been hit extremely hard. Criteo told The Information that ITP wiped out $25m of revenue in 2017, 9% of its total. A spokesperson said that Apple’s technology “does not truly promote choice for the users of its browser”.

Protection for Apple’s users, however, has arguably handed a benefit to other internet platforms whose own tracking features – Facebook’s profiles or Amazon’s shopping data – offer a strong alternative to cookie-based advertising.  

Ultimately, cookies are a relatively historic form of consumer identification. “There’s a hierarchy when it comes to consumer identification, with persistent IDs at the top, followed by device IDs and then cookies at the bottom,” according to Richard Lees, executive vice president, Europe solutions, at Merkle.

Sourced from The Information, Statista, WARC