Apple’s Upcoming Safari Changes Will Shake Up Ad Tech

"Data-Driven Thinking" is written by members of the media community and contains fresh ideas on the digital revolution in media.

Today’s column is written by Auren Hoffman, CEO at SafeGraph.

In September, Apple will release new changes to Safari with iOS 11 called “Intelligent Tracking Prevention.” These changes will have large effects on the ad tech industry and create new winners and losers.

In short, the iOS 11 changes will really help the big guys, are neutral to the small guys and significantly hurt the mid-size guys.

A Recap

Today, all Safari browsers essentially block third-party cookies that are dropped by domains other than the domain of the URL to which the user browsed. But the browsers reward first-party cookies with lots of privileges. This has been good for well-known sites, but also for large ad networks that get lots of clicks because a click gets routed through the ad network domain and becomes a first-party cookie.

IOS 11 will change the concept of a “first-party cookie.” The new first-party cookie comes with a ticking clock. In the first 24 hours, the cookie acts exactly like it used to – and can be used for retargeting. So, if you go to jetblue.com and search for a beach vacation, you can be retargeted for that beach vacation for exactly 24 hours. It is just like Jack Bauer racing against the clock before the world explodes.

For the first 30 days, the new first-party cookie lets you login on-site so you don’t have the annoyance of re-entering your password if you go back to the site 15 days later.

If you have not gotten back to the site in 30 days, your first-party cookie expires.

The Losers

Traditional ad networks: Slightly negative impact. Because Safari has not enabled third-party cookies for a long time, many ad networks will not be affected by the iOS change because they were already unable to participate in the Safari economy.  They might suffer a bit because this move will likely lower the price of Safari inventory and raise the price of Chrome and Internet Explorer inventory, both of which promote third-party cookies.

Large retargeters and demand-side platforms (DSPs): Very negative impact. This class of third-party ad networks received a lot of clicks, which resulted in first-party cookies for a large percentage of their users. Now the number of first-party cookies they have access to could decline by more than 98% in Safari.

Publishers: Very negative impact. As mentioned, some of the largest high-dollar bidders of Safari inventory, including large retargeters and DSPs, will stop bidding on Safari. The average CPM price for Safari should decline significantly. Publishers, especially higher-end publishers that cater to wealthy iOS users, will be stuck with many low-dollar bidders, less relevant ads and potentially unhappy users who have to see even more annoying ads.

The Winners

Facebook and Amazon: Very positive impact. Not surprisingly, Facebook and Amazon are the big winners in this change. Most of their users come every day or at least every week. And even the mobile users click on links often, which, on Facebook, takes them to a browser. These companies will also be able to buy ad inventory on Safari at lower prices because many of the high-dollar bidders will go away.

Google: An initially negative impact that will be positive in the long term. Google’s long-term gain will have short-term pain. That’s because most of the off-property ads are in the doubleclick.net domain and not google.com. We should expect Google to merge these domains so that everything is under the google.com domain – but that will take time to fully roll out. On the flip side, we should see more ad money flee people using Safari browsers, which means likely a bigger advertiser ecosystem on Android and Chrome.

To recap, the iOS 11 changes really help the big guys, are neutral to the small guys and significantly hurt the mid-size guys.

Follow Auren Hoffman (@auren) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

9 Comments

  1. Will the consumers win or lose? If all the high dollar bidders move out of safari, what kind of ads can safari users expect to see? Spray and pray.

    Reply
    • Ranadheer Velamuri

      Consumers or Users will stand to have less retargeted ads. Simpler answer is that, their content will be less cluttered but may lose out on deals kinds of ads for deal chasers. Apple's move seem to have short-term loss for longer term browser user share.

      Reply
  2. Hey Auren,
    >So, if you go to jetblue.com and search for a beach vacation, you can be retargeted for that beach vacation for exactly 24 hours.
    How would this work? JetBlue is not using their own ad tech stack to retarget - they need to let retargeters know a user has seen a particular page. This would work only if a retargeter already had a first party retargeter-domain cookie set in the last 24 hours. In order to get that cookie the user had to click on any of the banner ads of the retargeter.

    Reply
    • Ranadheer Velamuri

      As detailed in the blog, 3rd party cookies can't be planted but 1st party pixel code can fire on other publisher sites to plant the retargeted ads. That should not be an issue within the 1st 24 hours. This time limit is what Safari seems to have taken control, which was previously with 1st party for much longer period of time.

      Reply
  3. The winners are the users as the experience will become better for them, especially because of better privacy control. Apple will likely push IDFA as an identifier into Safari, which has better overall privacy control mechanisms as they can be adjusted in the settings. And this will mean better times for all app focused platforms as they will now start to take over the web. Google will likely go the same way with the Android advertising ID. It makes so much more sense than the old cookie approach.

    Reply
  4. The biggest winner of all will be Apple. People will be under a bit (just a bit) less surveillance and will be more likely to move to and use iOS as a result. Good move by Apple, for their business and for privacy.

    Reply
    • I think the mentality of being "under surveillance" is distorted. It's not like there are people huddled in a dark room somewhere just watching your browsing behavior online. In terms of privacy, aren't the telemarketers who have your phone number and the junk mailers who have your address, credit history, and who knows what else more of an intrusion than a bit of code on your device that says "user with the cookie ID:XXXXX likes to shop at zappos.com?" I really disagree with the notion of thinking cookie blocking is making the anything "safer" or "more secure." In advertising, we're trying to make the user experience more relevant to them, adding value to both the consumer and the advertiser. I just don't see it as an invasion of privacy in the least.

      Reply
  5. Dom Satur

    Great read! I personally think the significance of this change is overstated. Safari accounts for 13% of traffic. Its higher on mobile (33%)but a chunk of that will be app traffic where cookies aren't a consideration. While Safari has failed to gain market share in the last year or so Chrome continues to grow its % aggressively. I agree with the comments here that the net effect will simply be Safari impressions are a bit cheaper programmatically as people have less data to inform a bid, this is probably already the case to a much smaller degree with Safari impressions (I'm guessing here-I don’t know). I would also be absolutely amazed if Google decided to move DCM, DFP, DBM and DART Search on to Google.com in response to this! Who is going to win in the longer term? Safari and apps? or Google Chrome and AMP type initiatives? It’s an admirable attempt by Safari to close the "visited sites" loophole but that’s all it is for me. I think very little will change in Ad Tech as a whole.

    Reply
  6. Would it be a stupid question if I ask why did they do it when they know that big advertisers/DSP will pull out? Won't it cut down the already limited revenue opportunity?

    Reply

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