Online Advertisement Tracking Hits a Major Bump

As Whitney pointed out during her presentation, marketing firms and advertising firms like DigitasLBi rely heavily on their ability to track users’ interactions with online advertising. However, with a new software update from one of the world’s largest technology companies, the job of tracking users through advertisements is getting much more difficult.

Technology giant Apple announced a major change their macOS software at their Worldwide Developers’ Conference this past summer. The change, which Apple attributes to user privacy concerns, has recently drawn much negative attention from ad agencies. In the newest version of macOS, High Sierra, Apple’s Safari web browser is going to introduce “Intelligent Tracking Prevention” which, according to Engadget, “will stop you from being tracked by advertisers as you go from site to site, so that you no longer keep seeing an ad for that one thing you looked up on Amazon that one time.”

MacOSHighSierra

Apple’s macOS High Sierra debuts on September 25, 2017

As software companies attempt to protect user privacy and advertisers attempt to deliver relevant ads to users, the world of digital business finds itself in a classic bind. Where should users and companies draw the line with regards to online privacy? Is our browsing history something that should be kept private? Do users share the same views as companies trying to protect our privacy? Is Apple going too far?

According to a statement released by six major advertising associations, these type of tracking blocks will prevent users form being able to enjoy ad-supported online content that would otherwise have to require payment to view. The group calls Apple’s move a “unilateral and heavy-handed approach” to user privacy. Think, how many times do you go to a website that delivers some kind of content for free, but has lots of advertising? The Heights is a great example from the BC community. The Heights is an independent newspaper, so they don’t receive money from BC but rather rely on advertising on their website for income. Advertising agencies claim that, without tracking and other advanced technologies that allow for the delivery of highly relevant ads, this content will no longer be available for free.

Apple, who already introduced ad blocking in Safari on iOS last year, joins Google in proposing and implementing ad-blocking solutions to their web browsers. Though these features can be turned off, it is unlikely that users will go out of their way to allow themselves to be tracked or to view ads on websites that they visit.

It is worth noting, according to CNBC, that Apple’s technology is not a total block on tracking cookies. The tool uses machine learning to identify “tools that are tracking users, like cookies, and only lets third-party companies digitally follow people for 24 hours after they visited a website. First-party companies are allowed to track people for up to 30 days, but if the user doesn’t return to the website in that time period, their data is erased.” With this information in mind, are the advertisers overreacting to Apple’s move? Is Apple doing the right thing? With software companies creating these blocks as default settings, how will consumers feel about this? To find out, I asked a couple of my relatively tech-savvy roommates for their input.

remarketing

Brief explanation of how advertising trackers target ads at specific online visitors

One of my roommates is in favor of advertiser tracking, remarking that if a service is going to be delivered to him, he wanted it to be done right. He added, however, that even with current tracking and ad-blocking technologies, he hasn’t found online advertising to be particularly well-executed and is generally dismissive of online ads.

Another one of my roommates is in favor of the added levels of privacy. He agreed with the idea that online advertisers can essentially recreate our entire browser history through complicated sets of first and third-party cookies. While he did mention that he didn’t have anything to hide, as most people do not, the idea of having a “big brother” watching over internet usage is unnerving. As a Mac user, he does plan to keep the tracking protections turned on in Safari to make sure his browsing history is not tracked by first-party advertisers.

As for me, I’m a bit more split than my two roommates. I do want any online services that I utilize to be as good as possible and I definitely do not want to pay for content that I was previously able to receive for free. At the same, I do want my privacy to be respected and using tracking cookies and other tracking methods puts that at risk. In this particular case, as a macOS and Safari user, I will be glad to accept the new technology which puts my privacy first. Since I use several different ad-blocking programs on my browser, I don’t think I’ll notice too much of a difference, but I will know in my head that I’m browsing more safely.

With the next version of macOS, High Sierra, to debut in just a week on September 25, we will not have to wait long to begin seeing the repercussions from Apple’s move towards greater user privacy. What do you think of the privacy vs user experience debate? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

For more information on macOS High Sierra and the debate with advertisers, refer to the following links:

“Why the advertising industry is upset with Apple right now” – CNBC

“Advertisers are upset with Safari’s new anti-tracking features” – Engadget

macOS High Sierra – Apple

9 comments

  1. Cam- super happy you brought this topic up as I started hinting at it during the questions of my presentation! In one of our staff meetings, we started talking about this. After the short brief, my brain went in to total chaos as I didn’t know how this industry would adapt. But to my surprise the rest of the room was very calm and collected.

    Obviously, this is a growing pain, but I know Digitas is proactively thinking about this in a way that is eager, not in anger, based on the conversations I had internally. This isn’t the first road block the advertising world has gotten and they will continue to grow and adapt as the dynamic world of online advertising will.

    Additionally, I think agencies and marketers who have opposition to this new technology aren’t doing their jobs to its fullest potential. As there is a rise and push towards native content, users will hopefully start clicking on advertisements without thinking they are ads. Therefore, clicks and retargeting will still happen even with browser history being cleared every 24 Hours. Excited to see what actually happens! Thanks for sharing!

  2. Wow Cam great blog post! I find this topic so interesting and extremely relevant as I feel that I am constantly targeted by those pesky “Amazon ads” (I mean I looked at it once… and it was by accident….ha) I also think Whitney brings up a really awesome point! Advertiser’s are going to have to get smarter and figure out how best to reach the digital consumer. I think our generation of consumers’s is more demanding and they almost “see through” and are “turned-off” by these hyper-targeted ads in a way. Marketers are going to have figure out how better to disguise their ads as relevant digital content – maybe pushing more into the social platform realms?

  3. Great post! I have always felt the ads online are very annoying and sometimes creepy like the advertisers know everything about me. For example, I searched a product several times one day and the next day I found many ads of that product showing up on Facebook. Honestly, this scared me a little bit. So for me, I would rather to choose privacy even if I have to pay for the content. But your topic really rises a concern about how digital advertisers target the consumers and how they make the content attractive enough to deliver information to the consumers. Once the ads are fun and needed , I believe everyone would love to see it online and finish watching it. Apple’s efforts on blocking ads might stimulate advertisers working on the digital marketing strategy and bringing people better experience.Finally, it might be a win-win situation !

  4. Nice post. Its really interesting to see the push and pull of advertising vs. user experience. Usually the advertisers end up overreaching and then some technological solution comes along to combat their overuse. I don’t blame the technology companies at all for trying to moderate the environment….it also happens to give them more power over the environment. Why give that away if you have it?

  5. Great post! I’m sure it must have been a very interesting debate within apple headquarters–this new feature will likely satisfy customers, which benefits them, but Apple also relies on this kind of advertising; they’re one of the advertising that they’re disadvantaging as well. Great job acknowledging both sides of the argument; I think I’m of the same opinion as yourself–I definitely like the extra security, but if it leads to a greater need for paid content in the future, I’m not going to be too happy. I’ve also definitely gotten used to targeted ads, and I think I may actually get frustrated with ads that are blatantly irrelevant to me.

  6. I think your point about preferring the tradeoff of giving away privacy in exchange for free content is interesting. I am also inclined to say I prefer this, but it worries me that I don’t know exactly what I’m giving up by letting companies track so much of my information. Allowing companies to track my path through the internet seems innocent enough, but eventually they could have collected a ton of data about me that I am not even aware of. I think one partial solution would be requiring companies to be more transparent about exactly what data they are collecting and when, and how they plan to use it (or even permission to use it). Great post– it made me consider many sides of this issue.

  7. Do you think there’s any possibility that this was a first step for apple to profit from these new privacy settings? I’m not necessarily sure how but I’m always shocked to learn how much activity is tracked when we’re on our computers. I listened to a speaker from Google last year and its possible for websites to track your battery level or your cursor position on the screen. If Apple is restricting tracking from outside parties, is it possible Apple is setting themselves up to control data and tracking that would profit them?

  8. Really interesting post, and an even more interesting topic. As you mentioned, Apple launched ad-blocking in Safari with iOS 10, but ad-blockers have been around for years before that. One that comes to mind is AdBlock Plus: one of its main features is the ability to “whitelist” ads that are non-intrusive — in other words, they have a set of criteria that deem ads “non-intrusive”, and companies can apply to join their whitelist if their campaigns meet the conditions set forth. This seems to be a compromise on both sides, and allows digital marketers to keep reaching their target customers. You can read about their policy here if you’re interested: https://adblockplus.org/acceptable-ads

  9. I had no idea how much goes into advertisements until Whitney’s presentation and it seems to be super prevalent in the news recently because of the iOS update. People have such different takes on advertising and how it influences their own online experience. Wonder what the backlash is going to be if there will be any.

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