Apple wants to solve digital advertising’s “creepy” problem by making it harder for marketers to track individuals online.
Advertising has allowed the internet to remain free for millions of users, but consumers have lost their taste for cookies and other behavior-monitoring tactics. Pop-up ads and auto-roll videos have given way to “tracking pixels,” which follow consumers around the internet—leading many shoppers to feel spied on.
However, this technology has been an invaluable source of information for marketers looking to learn about potential buyers. Apple asserts that it can protect privacy while still offering marketers valuable feedback on their campaigns.
As more and more browsers acknowledge the problems of cross-site tracking, we should expect privacy-invasive ad click attribution to become a thing of the past.
We propose a modern way of doing ad click attribution that doesn’t allow for cross-site tracking of users but does provide a means of measuring the effectiveness of online ads. It is built into the browser itself and runs on-device which means that the browser vendor does not get to see what ads are clicked or which purchases are made.
Privacy Preserving Ad Click Attribution has three steps:
Store ad clicks. This is done by the page hosting the ad at the time of an ad click.
Match conversions against stored ad clicks. This is done on the website the ad navigated to as a result of the click. Conversions do not have to happen right after a click and do not have to happen on the specific landing page, just the same website.
Send out ad click attribution data. This is done by the browser after a conversion matches an ad click.
Apple hopes marketers will be happy with limited data that can still offer metrics about a marketing effort.
The way traditional ad click attribution works is through cookies and “tracking pixels.” A typical example is as follows: You search for a product on a search engine, click on an ad, get referred to a vendor’s online store, and then purchase the item. The vendor’s site will send tracking pixels back to the search engine every step of the way, letting it know exactly what you did on the online store. Other sites that use similar tracking pixels will also send data about what you did back to the search engine, whether you clicked on an ad or not. This is basically how sites build detailed automatic databases about individual customers, including their interests, age, habits, and how much money they might make.
Apple’s solution is to try to stop much of this information from being shared between sites. Generic ad clicks would be stored on the site hosting the ad, while advertisers would then be able to match conversions (the number of people who went on to fulfill a transaction) with a randomized 24- to 48-hour delay. The delay would prevent individual profiling, while still allowing advertisers to understand whether a campaign is effective, or pinpoint where potential issues may occur in the checkout flow.
Privacy has become a major talking point for tech companies, as Facebook has announced it will pivot to privacy-focused interactions and Google has pledged to offer internet users more control over their data.
Apple’s step shows how increased public scrutiny is forcing greater transparency in Silicon Valley, particularly as its tech rivals Facebook Inc and Alphabet Inc’s Google have struggled with data privacy scandals.
At a launch event in March, Apple made privacy the core focus as it introduced Apple News+, a news app that it said would not report what users were reading to advertisers, as well as a credit card with Goldman Sachs that it said would not sell user data to marketers.
…Earlier this month, Google said it will roll out a dashboard-like function in its Chrome browser to offer users more control in fending off tracking cookies, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Many remain skeptical about whether Apple’s proposal has legs, and marketers aren’t likely to be pleased with the new features.
Would advertisers be happy with this? Probably not. While they’d still be able to see which campaigns are successful, it does prevent them from tracking an individual’s habits in real time. That means it’d be harder to target ads on a website at a specific time to a particular demographic.
This far from Apple’s first attempt to improve privacy on Safari. Earlier this year, Apple removed its Do Not Track feature from the browser, as it was practically ineffective. At WWDC 2018, Apple also introduced Intelligent Tracking Protection, which axed the 24-hour period that Safari kept cookies in favor of a user opt-in. And, let’s not forget Apple trumpeting its privacy commitment at this year’s CES—a trade show it usually has zero presence at.
Just how limited will the data from Apple’s new browser settings be? Apple says marketers can still track and compare campaigns, but they will lose some detail.
Simply put, by restricting the number of campaign and conversion IDs to just 64, advertisers are prevented from using long and unique values that can be used as a unique identifier to track a user from site to site. Apple says that restricted number will still give advertisers enough information to know how well their ads are performing. Advertisers, for example, can still see that a particular ad campaign leads to more completed purchases, based off a specific conversion ID, than other ad campaigns when they’re run on specific site in the last 48 hours.
But Apple concedes that real-time tracking of purchases may be a thing of the past if the technology becomes widely adopted. By delaying the ad click and conversion reports by up to two days, advertisers lose real-time insight into who buys what and when. Apple says there’s no way to protect a user’s privacy if attribution reports are sent as soon as someone buys something.
On Twitter, some were excited about the new features:
This is huge!
Another positive pro-privacy move by @Apple, and demonstrates the innovation that can occur when there are market incentives and willingness to create sustainable business models. https://t.co/gwCqPSVPwt
— ashkan soltani (@ashk4n) May 22, 2019
Others pointed out Apple’s mixed history of preserving user privacy:
A gentle reminder that Apple continues to hand over iCloud data & encryption keys to the Chinese government in order to sell phones in China.
Eg: Profits > Privacy
Privacy is mostly marketing for giant companies and who you trust is a complicated. No tech giant is a saint here. https://t.co/fe8xxlx3sF
— Russell Ivanovic (@rustyshelf) May 17, 2019
What do you think of Apple’s proposed advertising changes, PR Daily readers?