Please note that the below article was written before the March 2020 update to ITP 2.3. Following the update, link decoration is no longer a defining criteria for Apple’s ITP to trigger – so the method mentioned in this article to strip link decoration will no longer mitigate its side effects for any publishers who may be affected. It is however still a valid method for publishers to protect user privacy, by preventing third parties from tracking users across domains.
Permutive customers are still supported to succeed unaffected by the impact of Apple’s ITP.
Apple’s Intelligent Tracking Prevention (ITP) 2.3 was announced on September 23rd 2019, ramping up Safari’s efforts to protect user privacy. This iteration of ITP restricts the use of local storage in situations where ITP identifies that publisher traffic is being used by third parties for cross-domain tracking.
Publishers aren’t the target of this change; in fact, ITP 2.3 looks to further prevent third-parties from misusing publishers for off-domain tracking purposes. In Apple’s words,
“Site owners have been convinced to deploy third-party scripts on their websites for years. Now those scripts are being repurposed to circumvent browsers’ protections against third-party tracking. By limiting the ability to use any script-writeable storage for cross-site tracking purposes, ITP 2.3 makes sure that third-party scripts cannot leverage the storage powers they have gained over all these websites.”
Frequent ITP iterations suggest that Apple’s Safari will maintain a strict policy to crack down on third-parties who track users across the web. As publishers can unintentionally facilitate this third-party cross-domain tracking, Apple are now encouraging action to prevent it, stating that they “hope web developers will join us in better protecting user privacy while concurrently creating the best user experiences on the web.”
Apple also laid out their recommended action in the ITP 2.2 WebKit blog.
“Once developers know that their websites are leveraged for cross-site tracking purposes, they can choose to filter out trackers’ link decoration.”
By filtering out link decoration from third-party trackers, publishers who are affected by ITP 2.3 can mitigate some of the effects they may see, protect user privacy, and also reclaim control over the data entrusted to them by their users.
Permutive customers are supported to succeed in a privacy-compliant fashion and without ITP impact, which can be a side effect of Apple’s campaign to tackle cross-domain tracking. However, in order to support any other publishers who are impacted by ITP 2.3 or who simply wish to prepare for the privacy-led future ahead, we have offered guidance for site developers on a potential method of filtering link decoration, should they wish to implement one.
The future is bright for publishers
Although ITP and other anti-tracking browsers have had an undeniable impact on the industry, these changes and privacy legislations are giving publishers a huge opportunity.
The inevitable dismantling of privacy-unsafe third-party data across the web will eventually leave publishers as the only source of privacy-compliant data – rich, first-party data wilfully provided by users. This will put the power (and revenue) back into publishers’ hands. To reach this point, however, the industry has to adapt and Apple is one of those pushing for change, fast.
As the shift towards a privacy-compliant industry continues, the best course of action for publishers is to focus on first-party data strategy and find the tools to help them do so. This way, publishers can navigate this privacy-focused future, separate themselves from effects of the crackdown on third parties, and take the opportunity to not only survive, but thrive as the third-party cookie crumbles.