Apple recently updated its Safari web browsers on desktop and mobile with a new Intelligent Tracking Prevention (ITP) feature. To help you understand what it is and its potential ramifications, Sizmek put together this brief guide to what ITP is and how it may impact your business.

What happened and why

As part of their release of iOS 11 and macOS 10.13, Apple added ITP as a way to reduce the number of tracking mechanisms that advertisers, publishers, and technology companies employ. The idea was that ITP would increase consumer privacy and enhance the web browsing experience by eliminating excessive and persistent tags that can lead to slow load times.

A bit of history on Safari cookies

Before discussing ITP, it’s important to recognize that Safari has been disabling third-party cookies by default for a while now. More specifically, they’ve always allowed cookies to be created by a third party in a third-party context (i.e., a cookie created by a domain other than the domain of the site), but those cookies would never be persistent or accessible across sites; only cookies originally written as a first-party cookie could be accessed in third-party contexts. Consumers could override these settings, but industry data suggests this is quite rare.

As a result, advertisers that rely on third-party cookies serving in a third-party context have been limited in the kind of tactics they can use to retarget users or have high degrees of accuracy within the measurement of reach, frequency, conversions, and attribution for Safari activity. These limitations have affected all ad tech vendors who rely on third-party cookies served in a third-party context equally.

First-party cookies were always safe and in the clear. Advertisers could write (or create) first-party cookies when a consumer visited their site. In situations where the advertiser was the third party, but previously wrote a first-party cookie from a visit to their site, they could further read and write to that cookie. This exception for first-party cookies was exploited by some ad tech vendors who developed solutions that wrote cookies using the advertiser’s domain.

In short, third-party cookies have always been blocked by Safari unless they were originally written as a first-party cookie.

Enter ITP

ITP puts restrictions on whether or not any business can continue to read or update first-party cookies when the user is not directly on the business’s site. In other words, it affects whether a company can access first-party cookies in a third-party context.

Apple has set some rules and guidelines that define the circumstances under which the behavior described above is allowed. For starters, Apple provides advertisers with a 24-hour window from when a first-party cookie was last accessed in a first-party context (e.g., from the advertiser’s primary website) to access that first-party cookie in third-party contexts. But after 24 hours, the time is up. The only place that a cookie can again be accessed is when the user is on the primary website once more, after which, the clock restarts. If the user doesn’t return to the primary website within the next 29 days, the first-party cookie will be entirely deleted.

The good and the bad

The good news is customers will not see an impact in their business with Sizmek (and thus, Rocket Fuel). Neither platform makes use of first-party cookies. Sizmek cookies are created as third-party cookies, and as described above, are not usable for cross-site tracking in Safari. Simply put, ITP has no effect on Sizmek third-party cookies since those cookies were never originally set as a first-party cookie.

The bad news is that some advertisers may have to work harder to maintain an understanding of their customers and prospects since its first-party cookies are no longer as persistent as they once were. There may also be some fallout that occurs in the “connective tissue” of the ad tech ecosystem with the high volume of cookie syncs, tagging in the market, and usage of vendors that previously relied on exploiting the first-party loophole. Last, but not least, ITP will make it difficult to write and maintain opt-out preferences for users over time as Apple’s approach certainly breaks from industry norms.


Ultimately, advertising is changing, and many leading companies including Sizmek have already taken steps to prepare for a future where cookies are simply not as important as they once were. From cross-device graphs that use probabilistic and deterministic methods to aid in identification to mobile advertising IDs for in-app advertising to using other forms of data, such as campaign, contextual, creative and cost, that improve the relevance of advertising—there’s never been a better time to be a marketer.

Note: This post was updated Tuesday, Sept 26, to clarify why Sizmek third-party cookies are not impacted by ITP.

Find out how Sizmek can help you strategize for every change you face in making your campaigns a success. Connect with your Sizmek representative or contact a Sizmek pro here.