Online tracking, restrictions, and data analysis.

Christopher Tighe, Editorial and Translation Manager, AT Internet

ITP – setting the boundaries for online tracking

Following Firefox’s recent update of its privacy policy, Safari’s Intelligent Tracking Prevention has now gone even further. With the latest update on its ITP system for iOS and macOS, Safari is leading the way on privacy policy among the major browsers. Even Microsoft and Google are making moves towards user privacy by giving users more control over their cookie options. In the wake of the GDPR last year, are we witnessing the start of a major new trend for web browsers?

ITP has been around for a while now. Introduced in June 2017, Safari’s privacy feature began cancelling any third party cookies from being deposited on a browser by default. In March this year, Firefox introduced new privacy rules with the release of 66.0 and Safari came out with ITP 2.1 which also restricts first party cookies.

With 14 and 15% respectively, the combined hits generated by Firefox and Safari account for nearly a third of the internet. Blocking third party cookies by default could therefore have a seismic impact on companies that rely on cross-site traffic measurement and retention analyses.

How do the new restrictions work?

Firefox 66 introduces a pre-checked box in the new browser settings that automatically prevents the deposit of third party cookies; while it’s private-browsing mode cancels all hits. Safari already blocked third party cookies by default – its new rule means that all remaining cookies that are not ITP compliant are deleted after seven days.

Safari’s requirements state that cookies must be http-only, i.e. server-side, as opposed to client-side management (JavaScript). They must be explicitly set with a secure flag and only on https – secure http. Their collection domain also needs to be the same as the website domain, i.e. first party.

Data analysis and the ITP

Now more than ever, analysts need to be able to rely on a powerful and high-performance analytics solution to ensure that their traffic is not significantly affected by ITP. Analytics tools will always be impacted by web browser evolution, especially with the increasing shift towards data privacy. However, it is possible to be fully privacy-compliant and still maintain a clear and detailed overview of your traffic. Some providers already offer various methods and systems to secure cookie deposit and guarantee data privacy.

Identified visitors could also be the key to your analysis. By using identified visitor ids between your sites, you avoid spreading their information to external sites – you can therefore carry out cross-site analysis without affecting user privacy. Now is the time to get visitors to subscribe to your sites.

For third party cookies, their days are numbered. In terms of anonymised visitors, the domain structure will eventually need to be updated not just for analytics but for all resources. To stay ahead of the game, you can avoid the impact of ongoing restrictions by adjusting your measurements to ITP standards. Analytics solutions such as AT Internet already offer its customers ways to analyse anonymised visitors with ITP activated on the browser.

So, will the other major browsers gravitate towards increased privacy?

Microsoft has introduced a new Edge privacy feature that will give users greater control over cookies and trackers. While Google announced that it will update Chrome to give users more options on how websites and online advertisers carry out cookie tracking.

As the ideas and fears from the GDPR ripple out into browser requirements as well general internet user culture, privacy measures such as ITP look like they’re here to stay.

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