Note: This post is fairly technical, using (without explaining) many marketing concepts. It has a big impact, but may be complex for many people, especially designers.
Many people in the world would prefer that everything online be free AND that their privacy is ironclad. The problem is that this ignores the economics of how everything we use on the internet is funded. The simple answer is Advertising and Marketing. And Apple just threw a monkey wrench into the whole shebang.
What specifically is changing?
It’s called Intelligent Tracking Prevention 2.1. Apple, makers of Safari based on Webkit, are changing the way that cookies are stored. Specifically, they changed the expiration date of all client-side cookies to 7 days.
With this update we further reduce trackers’ ability to establish user identities across sites.Feb 29, 2019, Apple
Who does that effect?
This will be felt by every single marketing department in the world. Cookies, in short, have been a key element of trillions of dollars of economic activity in the past 20 years. Many business systems depend on these little files in ways most people don’t fully understand. Let’s look at a common example:
Then, let’s say the anonymous visitor fills out a form to download a whitepaper. Now, the marketer knows who the person is (via the form info) and can de-duplicate and tailor messages to that person based on their activity. This is standard Marketing Automation 101.
Now, if they are using Safari, those cookies are not persistent for 730 days, but rather only 7 days. Lead scoring for anonymous activity will become useless. Abandoned (deleted cookies) anonymous leads will pile up in every marketing automation system leading to performance issues.
Next issue is advertising. Advertising is a big, complicated, incestuous business. When you see an ad somewhere, it is traveling through dozens of lightning fast servers, each adding a bit of information to yield the correct ad. When you search for something on Google or Amazon and then visit other sites, you will likely see that item advertised. It’s called re-targeting.
Now you might think this technique is creepy and an intrusion of privacy. However, try to understand is that the website they are visiting doesn’t exist for charity. They exist to make money. When you use an ad-blocker or when Safari drops these cookies, they are inherently making those websites less profitable. We live in a capitalist world. People work to make money. Businesses hire employees to make money. Money makes the internet work. Limiting advertising may sound good, but it directly impacts the ability of sites to produce “free” content.
Who is immune to this?
Several companies are immune to this because it doesn’t affect the kind of cookie you use to login to a system. So Amazon can track you because you are logged in. Same with the Apple store, Google, Netflix, Twitter, Facebook, and any system where you are logged in.
Unfortunately, this doesn’t help the hundreds of thousands of businesses worldwide who use marketing automation or advertising networks to get the word out about their products and services.
What do we do about this?
I think we should boycott Safari. Yes, this is an unlikely thing to protest when we have global climate change to worry about. However, we still need jobs and we still love free content. We need to support this thing that gives so many of us a reason to work.
There are many other elements of this story. How does Google respond? This affects Google Analytics, how will they change? Will there be more paywalls for content erected? This is not a good story, but I will try and keep an eye on it.