Did Google Just Circumvent Apple’s iOS 11 New Anti Ad-Tracking?

Apple has implemented yet another feature in iOS 11 to disrupt advertising. This time, they have added a feature that stops third-party cookies from being stored on your device for more than 24 hours.

Cookie ITP

What this means as a user is that those ads that are following you around about the shoes you looked at but didn’t buy will stop following you after those 24 hours. What it means for advertisers, is a whole lot of money being lost on their retargeting campaigns (often the most successful type of campaigns for a lot of eCommerce companies) and on being able to even track when their ad causes a conversion/sale.

Now, while this might seem like a play to help user experiences, it doesn’t stop ads from being shown, just the ones that are retargeting you (personally, I’d rather those since they are at least more relevant to me than “Lose Belly Fat Fast!” ads. But, frankly, I work on the web and so I’m definitely biased) and stops advertisers from knowing if you bought or not. The real person this hurts more than anyone (at least in the short-term till they update their systems) is Apple’s biggest competitors: Google, Facebook, Amazon, etc.

These companies make a lot of money on advertising and since Safari accounts for almost 50% of North American mobile web traffic, it’s a huge chunk to lose.

Interestingly enough, right before the iPhone X event (and the public beta seeding of iOS 11 with this new feature in it) Google sent out an email to AdWords users letting them know about a change coming to the way AdWords tracks conversions (and retargeting by virtue of how conversions work).

Go on, Google…

To help ensure conversions are reported accurately in your AdWords account, we’ll be making three changes, consistent with Apple’s recommendations for ad attribution:

  1. If you have auto-tagging enabled and a Google Analytics tag on your website, we’ll begin to set a new Google Analytics cookie on that site’s domain, which will store information about the ad click that brought a user to your site. If you have linked your AdWords and Google Analytics accounts, the AdWords conversion tracking tag will be able to use that click information.

  2. AdWords will continue to report conversions for users who have recently interacted with Google services and domains.

  3. AdWords will also use statistical modeling to estimate website conversions that could not be measured from Safari, and include them in your AdWords reporting

Bottom line is Google is now going to store the cookies (the things that contain the info on when/if you visited a site and the thing Apple is targeting with this change) on your actual domain (if you use Google Analytics) instead of on their own third-party domain like before.

While that doesn’t remove cookies from the equation it does meet Apple’s Intelligent Tracking Prevention protocol because they aren’t third-party cookies anymore, they are first-party on the actual site (Google is just injecting them for you through Google Analytics).

In addition to this, Google will even use “statistical modeling” to estimate the conversions when Safari is involved–whatever that is exactly. So it’s pretty clear who this change is aimed at.

And, just like that, it seems that Google at least has circumvented (or technically complied with?) the new ITP protocol from Apple.

Frankly, it’s all sort of moot really as most of the data Apple is trying to stop in Safari can easily be collected on the server-side (like what Google is doing) and so some marketers believe it’ll just accelerate the move to that ultimately.

If you want to read in more detail on all of this, SearchEngineLand has a good walkthrough, by the way.

Funny the hidden battles happening behind the scenes, no? Any thoughts on Apple’s stance on privacy? Does it make a difference or is it just a PR stunt to make users think Apple has their interests in mind?

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