How Apple blocking retargeting affects marketers

Yesterday, at the annual Apple developer’s conference, as well as releasing new hardware and announcing new versions of software, another major announcement was made.

The upcoming version of Safari will be blocking retargeting, so ads won’t be following users around on Apple products for much longer. This is a big deal for marketers, as Safari has 25.4% of the browser market share. Mozilla Firefox is also working on similar technology and they have 7.4% of the market.

Apple doesn’t make money from advertising, so they are clear to take a very pro-privacy stance, which allows them to do things to harm their competition like Google, which primarily makes money from advertising.

How it appears to work:

The new technology in Safari stops cross-site tracking, using a machine learning model to classify which top privately-controlled domains are tracking users across multiple sites.

It then proactively sandboxes third-party cookies after 24 hours, so that you can stay logged into web sites, but the cookies can’t be used for third-party tracking. If you don’t visit the site that the cookies originated from, it also stops it from dropping further cookies.

That means if you go to a website, it’s cookies will get dropped, but the third-party tracking cookies it also tries to drop won’t be able to write the cookies because they originate from tracking service sites few people ever visit. (Technically, they will get dropped – once, and deleted after 24 hours, never to be dropped again.)

This is a critical component of technology that tracks people across web sites, which enables inexpensive and very effective retargeted ads.

What this means for marketers:

Here’s what you might expect to have to deal with, remembering that this is just on Apple platforms, and these are educated guesses based on my preliminary research.

  1. Retargeting will stop working. That was stated. If your market is Apple only, your advertising costs are going to go up a lot without retargeting.
  2. Affiliate attribution will only last 30 days from when you send people to a site, if the attribution is only tracked by cookies. That’s the way most affiliate systems work.
  3. It will likely stop the ability to embed affiliate links in web pages or links, also known as cookie stuffing.
  4. Advertising platforms will likely not be able to collect nearly as much data for selling targeted advertising, as they cannot track you across sites. (For example, every site with a Facebook like button or comments lets Facebook track your movement and interests across the web.)
  5. SaaS web analytics like Google Analytics may see repeat visitors always appear as new visitors, unless they are coming every single day. (Though they are horribly inaccurate already due to ad blockers blocking them.)
  6. Services like Perfect Audience, which rent out retargeting pixels will lose a quarter of their inventory and audience.

In addition, this affects your web sites, if you have a service that gets used occasionally. You’ll no longer be able to store data in cookies, as they get purged after 30 days of non-use. This could affect single-sign on systems as well.

Also note that Apple also announced it will block auto-playing video on websites.

What it doesn’t do:

This is not ad blocking technology, and it also doesn’t block fingerprinting technology, which can be used as an alternative to cookies.

Third party cookies also enable such things as signing into services with your Facebook or Google logins. That part won’t be blocked.

How this affects users:

This affects all link services equally. It stops third-party retargeting, affiliate links, or other tracking pixels from getting written to Apple devices when clicking on redirect links or landing on websites.

It does not affect the website tracking in, as that is currently done with first-party pixels.

Also, keep in mind that we don’t know if this will be turned on by default with the update, or if users need to turn it on. (I would put my money on it being turned on by default though.)

I have plans for, which I’m building up the resources to implement. This move by Apple makes a stronger case for one part of my plan, and shoots a hole in another part.


Having said all that, we don’t really know how this will affect retargeting yet. Tracking services are very complex, and use a combination of several technologies. While things like affiliate cookies only lasting 30 days is simple, you can bet that Facebook and Google are going to do everything in their power to fight this and keep the status quo. Apple should be a serious rival though and Google is already losing the battle with ad blockers so far.

We’ll have wait and see to know for sure, but this continues a trend against tracking services and online marketers.