IOS11 Forces Ad Industry Innovation

Last week Apple announced IOS11 and with it the new version of its Safari browser. Now Safari is not at all the most popular browser, because most of the world uses Android, but it is a browser used by almost half of all web traffic in North America and a quarter of all the traffic in Europe. And that traffic is highly desirable to advertisers.

Apple, however, does not care about advertisers. Advertising isn’t its business model, because it sells hardware and software.  And to illuminate the cause of its unconcern:  Apple’s differentiator is security and privacy.

Remember when the F.B. I. asked the company to break into the iPhone of Syed Rizwan Farook, who perpetrated the mass shooting in San Bernardino, Calif a year ago and the company refused? 

Bureau officials [said] that encrypted data in Mr. Farook’s phone and its GPS system may hold vital clues about where he and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, traveled in the 18 minutes after the shootings, and about whom they might have contacted beforehand.

Apple went to court and fought the government rather than write new software to compromise the iPhone’s security.

It only stands to reason that Apple would try to protect its users further by incorporating anti-tracking software into Safari; that’s right in line with its brand strategy.

Safari 11… intelligent tracking-prevention technology makes it harder for ads to follow you around from one site to another and for advertisers to keep track of your browsing habits over the longer term. One part of the approach is deleting even first-party cookies if it’s been more than 30 days since you interacted with the website that set the cookie.

This drove the advertising industry wild, with a coalition of industry groups publishing a letter last week telling Apple that Safari’s new settings would endanger internet economics.

Apple’s Safari move breaks [cookie-setting] 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.”

But the ad industry shouldn’t worry. We remember when pop-up ads were blocked, and the industry squirmed. We also remember when third party cookies began to be blocked in browsers, and the industry wrung its hands again. Now the blocking of first party cookies will be used as an incentive to innovate, because consumers have already sent the message that they hate retargeting and don’t want to be followed around the web by a pair of shoes they just bought.

And besides, not all first party cookies are blocked, and that’s because some of them are actually desirable for users. Those are the ones that make it possible for you to log into a site without re-registering each time. Safari uses a machine learning model, so if a user visits a site and logs in with Facebook or Twitter, a cookie will still be set to allow that user to log in again.

We are gradually moving toward an era of brand advertising, in which users will be shown content and incentivized to interact with ads for a reward. This gives users a choice,  and does not put all the power in the hands of advertisers and their ad tech to force an ad in front of an unwilling user, where it has rested for the past two decades.