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Policy / DCN perspectives on policy, law, and legislative news surrounding digital content

No, Apple isn’t destroying digital advertising. It’s meeting consumer expectations…again

October 26, 2017 | By Chris Pedigo, SVP Government Affairs – DCN @Pedigo_Chris

Apple recently announced that iOS 11 will include Intelligent Tracking Prevention (ITP) in Safari. In a nutshell, ITP will go beyond merely blocking 3rd party cookies by segregating any cookie after 24 hours without interactivity on its parent domain’s website. The segregated cookie could still be used for log-ins, but not for tracking and/or retargeting purposes.

Despite a chorus of cries that this move will “sabotage” the current economic model of the internet, I actually think this is just Apple trying to keep up with consumer expectations. For years, Apple has attempted to block 3rd party cookies, although ad tech companies have worked to bypass Apple’s efforts. The thinking has been that consumers only want to be tracked by companies with which they have a relationship. ITP simply ensures that consumers can only be tracked by the companies with which they have a current relationship. There are some kinks, for sure, but overall it makes sense.

After reading some of the reactions to Apple’s move, I had to step outside just to make sure the sky wasn’t actually falling. The response from the ad tech industry has not been surprising. The ad tech lobby has a long track record of protecting legacy models, even when they are probably not the best path for long-term success. However, calling Apple’s move one that will “harm consumers by distorting the digital advertising ecosystem and undermining its operations” seems pretty far off base.

Given the industry’s fear of government regulation, I’m surprised the tech giants aren’t more supportive of private sector moves like Apple’s that seek to address underlying consumer concerns. As we see in the EU’s forthcoming General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), governments can and will step in if the industry does not demonstrate that it can effectively self-regulate. When our trade bodies fail to step up and put into place strong guidelines that address customer concerns about important issues such as privacy, we put ourselves at risk of increased government scrutiny (many states already have privacy bills in the works.)

Instead, ad tech companies have dedicated massive amounts of capital and resources to developing new ways to track consumers, build larger and more sensitive profiles of consumers and deliver highly targeted ads. For the most part, the returns for investors have been terrific. For consumers – not so much. The well-documented reality is that digital tops the list of consumers’ least favorite forms of advertising. And tracking (aka “targeting”) is one of the aspects of digital advertising cited as particularly irksome.

Think about it: Right now, 67% of digital ads are direct response ads designed to get consumers to click. This is the equivalent of the junk mail cluttering your email inbox and those direct marketing ads that stuff your mailbox and end up in landfills. On top of that, digital ads are often overloaded with calls to unknown 3rd party servers, which dramatically slow the down the page. Worse, on mobile, it not only damages user experience, it soaks up more of a consumer’s data plan.

It’s no wonder consumers are downloading ad blocking software at higher rates each year. It’s no wonder that almost no one ever intentionally clicks on an ad. Suffice it to say that the claim that reducing the persistence of tracking cookies will harm the user experience is absurd. And frankly, a model that relies on these cookies to create an experience that’s driving ad blocker adoption is not one we need to defend.

Contrast that dynamic with Apple. Countless books have been written on how Apple is dialed into the wants and needs of consumers. The company boasts a loyal customer base and for good reason: Consumer experience is the priority. ITP is an extension of Apple’s consumer focus. Given the company’s track record as compared to the current state of digital advertising, ITP is likely to join the long line of successful consumer-friendly features developed by Apple. And if we want to have the same kind of success in the digital ecosystem, respecting the consumer and creating an experience they enjoy must be at the foundation of our advertising efforts.