Mainstream media is still abuzz since the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) went into effect back in May. Tech companies are uneasy about the prospect of being slapped with a multi-million euro fine, forcing them into taking extreme precautions. Apple, for example, introduced a revised version of its operating system, MacOS Mojave at the beginning of June.
The new MacOS itself is rather harmless: Some interesting design solutions are what stand out at first. But for those interested in tracking, the biggest pain is likely to be the Safari browser update. According to the company’s announcement, the new browser version limits the use of the fingerprint tracking technology for advertising purposes. It also disallows social media to track users’ actions through widgets without appropriate permission. This could create a number of obstacles for marketers who are advertising on the new version of the browser.
Aleksander Blokhin, CIO Admitad
The final release of the new MacOS is scheduled for this autumn but its beta version has been publicly available for a couple months. Admitad’s tracking department has tested the new MacOS successfully. In this article, we will outline some of the advantages and disadvantages of the updated version of Safari:
Disclaimer: the article is based on second edition of MacOS beta. MacOS beta is constantly updated. The option of cross-site tracking released in third update has not been completely tested yet and hence is not reviewed here.
Apple developers have added two features to the new version of Safari. The first, is the ability to block all cookies, including authorization cookies. The second is the inability to use fonts for fingerprint tracking.
Cookies are traditionally used for not only tracking users’ actions for CPA platforms but also for authorization. The new Safari is going to have a block all cookies button, which means that the user will not be able to login to websites that use authorization cookies. How exactly Safari is going to circumvent this restriction is not clear yet.
Under the new changes, platforms and social media will not be able to track users’ actions through cookies. However, it should be made clear that cookies are not the only way to track data. There are lots of other places in a browser where information can be stored. Therefore, in the future, it’s possible we’ll see a tracking scheme similar to cookies but with the tracking data stored somewhere else, like in Local Storage.
If users choose to block cookies, this may have negative repercussions on marketers. Once the cookies are blocked, users will not be able to authorise themselves on the website they are visiting. Thus, marketers who collect information about the user via authorisation of their visitors will no longer be able to do this. One of the potential drawbacks will be that marketers will no longer have access to a list of e-mails from users to suggest marketing benefits such as discounts, or other promotions.
Cookie-less tracking methods include identification-based tracking, which uses a digital fingerprint which comprises of technical data related to the device you are using to access the web. However, the new Safari version eliminates all custom fonts which are essential for fingerprint tracking. This potentially reduces the quality of tracking in Safari compared to other browsers. Fortunately, it affects the quality of order tracking in Safari only, while in other browsers, the tracking code is still working properly
For publishers, the reduction of the quality of tracking in Safari means that the results of their work or performed actions (sales, attracted orders) may be lost or uncounted, and therefore unpaid.
Publishers won’t be interested in driving traffic through Safari or to be connected to it in any way. This will have a negative effect on advertisers who develop their affiliate program and need to attract more publishers, as it will be harder to develop affiliate networks if those who normally participate aren’t motivated by the prospect of returns.
As such, Safari’s popularity could be negatively affected amongst online marketers when it comes to the promotion of their products, which could in turn mean a loss of prospective benefits and capital for the Safari business sector (sales and advertising).
How Bad Are Things?
We should mention that Safari allows fingerprint tracking, but only the part based on fonts. But, fingerprinting does not rely on fonts alone. It is important to note that following the changes, the accuracy of cross-browser tracking may decrease, but within a single browser — including the upgraded Safari — specialists will always be able to track an order, even if cookies are blocked.
Not every MacOS user uses Safari, but rather, that Apple devotees use it. If you are an anonymity enthusiast and use Safari only, you are unlikely to shop through another browser. Therefore, it is highly probable that marketers will know where an order has come from. Even if it is the new Safari, it is not too difficult to keep up.
If a browser has reduced tracking methods (fingerprint or cross-browser tracking), this could lead to lost orders. Those lost orders end up as unpaid actions. And as orders gradually start to come back as unpaid, publishers could well lose interest and motivation. This is reflected in low-quality or small amounts of traffic and unsubscribed publishers, due to loss of time.
The unavailability of good traffic such as promotion channels, for marketers, results in unattracted customers and unachieved revenues and sales.
The global fight for user anonymity online is not a new phenomenon. But recently, it has been developing more intensively, and there is a risk that we are headed in a direction that further reinforces anonymity while browsing the web. The GDPR is a perfect example of this, as well as the new ePrivacy Regulation being enforced in the E.U.
We can only guess Apple’s reasons for overhauling tracking on Safari. It’s possible that the company is unwilling to share that information, or that it’s trying to retain a certain market segment. Of course, Apple itself will be able to track from the upgraded browser. If you have browser logs, you essentially know everything about a person.
Google also tends to restrict information and Chrome is heading towards disallowing all third party extensions. For one, they have a lot of malware. Furthermore, some extensions break the website structure and spoil the visual design, for example, in order to mine cryptocurrencies. Finally, it is a measure to protect user information so that a third parties cannot obtain any extra data that the user wishes to keep private.
What’s at Stake?
The Safari + MacOS combination has become the most challenging segment for advertisements blocking. And yet, it makes up a relatively insignificant part of the market when it comes to sales from a desktop.
Online Stores and Tourism and Travelling are currently the most profitable of the five main sales segments in absolute figures. Together they make about 99% of the total amount of sales through Apple’s desktop browser.
Data shows that the Safari browser is most used for purchases pertaining to Tourism and Travelling (41%) and Online Services (39%).
Although the market is not large, Safari users’ average purchase amount is $20 higher than the total amount coming from users of all browsers based on the MacOS. The Accessories category of Online Stores stands out most here. MacOS users spend $186 on average on Accessories, whereas the average purchase from Safari users is $395.
Safari is definitely a market with higher marginality. But in terms of absolute volume, it is not so large. New Safari features are unlikely to have a decisive influence on sales performance, but marketers should get started working on a solution that would enable them to cope with the new restrictions. Fortunately, there’s still time until the release.