Webtrekk and Apple's ITP

by Michael Diestelberg, VP Product & Marketing

 
 

A few months ago, Apple introduced Intelligent Tracking Protection (ITP) with new versions of iOS (12.0) and macOS (10.14). In short, this new technology prevented ad networks from tracking users across websites by limiting permanent storage of third-party cookies.

AdTech companies criticized Apple for this as it attacks their business model. Trying to circumvent ITP went on to cause an arms race with Apple.

With the next iOS 12.2 and macOS 10.14.4 release expected end of March or beginning of April, Apple will roll out a new version of its Safari browser with the new ITP 2.1. This update will affect all analytics, marketing and advertising technologies, including Webtrekk.

What’s new with ITP 2.1?

While earlier versions of ITP only concerned vendors relying on third-party cookies, the upcoming update of Apples tracking protection will also interfere with first-party cookies. It will limit persistent first-party cookie storage to seven days. Apple states, “With ITP 2.1, all persistent client-side cookies, i.e. persistent cookies created through document.cookie, are capped to a seven-day expiry.”

How does ITP 2.1 affect Webtrekk customers?

Webtrekk uses cookies to store tracking information on devices to recognize these devices when a user returns to a website, enabling analyses like "new vs. returning visitors". The main cookie contains the so-called Webtrekk everId – this is our main cookie ID used to recognize devices. This cookie is used to calculate the “Visitors” metric, among others. When Apple deletes this cookie automatically after 7 days and the users return to the website, the number of “Visitors” recorded will increase because the device will now be recognized as “new”.

From a data perspective, if a website has Safari-referred traffic, then website owners can expect to see an increase in Visitor numbers in their data after the ITP 2.1 rollout.

Webtrekk's Custom Tracking Domains can be a solution

To mitigate the effects of ITP 2.1, it is essential to have an HTTPS-only website and to use a custom tracking domain. Plus, the cookie option in the Webtrekk tracking script needs to be set to “3”. This will create an everId cookie in the custom tracking domain (including the subdomain).

Custom Tracking Domains collect website data within the website domain itself. Data is not forwarded to an external address. This creates a technical scenario in which Apple's ITP 2.1 won't delete cookies after seven days - an exception from the strict tracking protection.

Also, Webtrekk will have to update its tracking servers and load balancers to set new cookie flags (secure and httpOnly): this is the only exception where Apple allows a cookie to be stored longer than 7 days because these kinds of cookies are usually used to prevent re-login every time a person returns to a website.

Why is Apple doing this?

In the long run, we will all have to accept that browser developers will prevent long-term visitor tracking. We can clearly see Apple and Mozilla taking a stance against the Wild West of tracking that the internet has become.

I personally think this is a good thing because it means our data privacy is being protected. There is still enough room left to analyze and optimize websites and apps without tracking people over a long period of time. You can still track them in real time and analyze all the data they generate!

ITP 2.1 was triggered by a game of cat and mouse between Apple and the AdTech industry. When Apple made third-party cookies redundant for long-term tracking, AdTech companies started to use first-party cookies using dirty tricks for cross-website tracking. No sane person would want their data privacy rights to be circumvented in this way without knowing.

Webtrekk will not fight against this trend of better data privacy and recommends all its customers not to circumvent this or any other anti-tracking technology. We are known for having the highest data privacy standards and will always make sure to respect people's rights.

Further technical information on ITP can be found in this article.