In a fiery response, the major digital marketing trade organizations are speaking out against Apple’s plan to update the way it plans to treat third-party cookies in Safari 11.
In an open letter expected to be released Thursday afternoon, the American Association of Advertising Agencies (4A’s), American Advertising Federation (AAF), Association of National Advertisers (ANA), Data & Marketing Association (DMA), Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) and Network Advertising Initiative (NAI) called on Apple to “rethink its plan to impose its own cookie standards and risk disrupting the valuable digital advertising ecosystem that funds much of today’s digital content and services.”
Apple’s Intelligent Tracking Prevention solution uses machine learning to determine if a third-party cookie can track users as they browse the web and follow them with retargeted ads. “Many users feel that trust is broken when they are being tracked and privacy-sensitive data about their web activity is acquired for purposes that they never agreed to,” Apple WebKit security engineer John Wilander wrote in a blog post about Intelligent Tracking Prevention. Third-party cookies remain functional for 24 hours, after which they can only be used to support functions like site logins for 30 days until they are purged entirely. The primary aim of the update is to limit cross-site user tracking and the pervasive use of retargeting.
The industry groups — which back the AdChoices program — sees Apple’s move as challenging the existential relationship between consumers and the sites and ad tech they encounter or interact with online. Saying Apple’s update “overrides and replaces existing user-controlled cookie preferences with Apple’s own set of opaque and arbitrary standards for cookie handling,” the groups call the move “unilateral and heavy-handed” and “bad for consumer choice and bad for the ad-supported online content and services consumers love.”
This line of argument against browsers taking action to limit ad tracking isn’t a new one. The industry made this case in opposition to browsers enabling Do Not Track by default rather than giving consumers the “choice” to turn it on. This time around, the groups write, “Put simply, machine-driven cookie choices do not represent user choice; they represent browser-manufacturer choice.”
Apple has shown it’s willing to resist pushback from the advertising industry. Safari is currently the only major browser to support Do Not Track by default; it also already blocks third-party cookies.
Last week, Google announced changes it is making to maintain AdWords ad conversion tracking from Safari 11 traffic by utilizing a new Google Analytics cookie.
The open letter in its entirety reads as follows:
September 14, 2017
An Open Letter from the Digital Advertising Community
The undersigned organizations are leading trade associations for the digital advertising and marketing industries, collectively representing thousands of companies that responsibly participate in and shape today’s digital landscape for the millions of consumers they serve.
We are deeply concerned about the Safari 11 browser update that Apple plans to release, as it overrides and replaces existing user-controlled cookie preferences with Apple’s own set of opaque and arbitrary standards for cookie handling.
Safari’s new “Intelligent Tracking Prevention” would change the rules by which cookies are set and recognized by browsers. In addition to blocking all third-party cookies (i.e. those set by a domain other than the one being visited), as the current version of Safari does, this new functionality would create a set of haphazard rules over the use of first-party cookies (i.e. those set by a domain the user has chosen to visit) that block their functionality or purge them from users’ browsers without notice or choice.
The infrastructure of the modern Internet depends on consistent and generally applicable standards for cookies, so digital companies can innovate to build content, services, and advertising that are personalized for users and remember their visits. Apple’s Safari move breaks those standards and replaces them with an amorphous set of shifting rules that will hurt the user experience and sabotage the economic model for the Internet.
Apple’s unilateral and heavy-handed approach is bad for consumer choice and bad for the ad-supported online content and services consumers love. Blocking cookies in this manner will drive a wedge between brands and their customers, and it will make advertising more generic and less timely and useful. Put simply, machine-driven cookie choices do not represent user choice; they represent browser-manufacturer choice. As organizations devoted to innovation and growth in the consumer economy, we will actively oppose any actions like this by companies that harm consumers by distorting the digital advertising ecosystem and undermining its operations.
We strongly encourage Apple to rethink its plan to impose its own cookie standards and risk disrupting the valuable digital advertising ecosystem that funds much of today’s digital content and services.
American Association of Advertising Agencies (4A’s)
American Advertising Federation (AAF)
Association of National Advertisers (ANA)
Data & Marketing Association (DMA)
Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB)
Network Advertising Initiative (NAI)