Online privacy is a hot-button issue in the digital marketing space. Consumers are pressing for greater privacy controls, states and governments are imposing more stringent privacy laws, and businesses are reacting with a flurry of privacy-focused initiatives.
One such initiative is Apple's Intelligent Tracking Prevention (ITP) policy, which was introduced into their Safari browser to limit companies’ abilities to track peoples’ browsing behaviors. In this post, we'll look at recent updates to this policy and why Sitecore is well-positioned to respond to demands for better privacy measures.
ITP & Addressing Data Privacy Challenges
Apple's release of ITP 2.1 earlier this year affects Webkit – the engine that runs all desktop and mobile Safari browsers. Among many other things, this update to ITP makes it very difficult for client-side analytics vendors such as Google Analytics or Adobe Analytics to track users for longer than seven days. Given that Safari traffic makes up roughly 15% of traffic on the web, web marketers that make use of client-side analytics are taking note.
John Wilander, Apple's engineer behind ITP, explained this update in detail. To summarize, their rationale for this limit as it relates to first-party tracking cookies is twofold:
- Companies deploying cross-site, third-party tracking cookies have shifted to using first-party cookies. Apple has publicly taken a stance against cross-site tracking and has therefore decided to limit the expiration length of first-party cookies set by client-side scripts.
- There has been an explosion in the number of tracking cookies placed on peoples' machines which slows down each request.
It's easy to see why web marketers may feel conflicted about these changes. Nobody wants to browse websites that load up hundreds of cookies, slow their experience, and send their information to companies with poor data standards. However, marketers find it valuable to know how many visitors come to their websites and with what frequency. A marketer's understanding of new vs. returning traffic may influence the type of content they create, the language they use, and the campaigns they undertake.
Sitecore as a Solution
Vendors have responded to ITP with various band-aid fixes that have come and gone as Apple has tightened their enforcement. Sitecore, in contrast, is unique in that it, and other server-side analytics solutions, are exempt from ITP's first-party cookie expiration.
As noted above, ITP's seven-day expiry only affects first-party cookies set by client-side libraries. This would include, for example, the cookies set by Google’s analytics.js file. Sitecore, on the other hand, sends its analytics cookies directly to the user in its HTTP response. This is a more secure method of setting cookies that has Apple's blessing.
The difference between these approaches may seem minor, but it creates a wide gulf between client-side and server-side analytics vendors. Client-side vendors have no easy method of setting cookies in the HTTP response header and will therefore underreport the number of returning Safari visitors while Sitecore's statistics remain unaffected.
Beyond ITP: How Ownership of Data Limits Privacy Liabilities
Sitecore is further inoculated from future privacy laws and policies for another reason: marketers running Sitecore own their data. This limits liability as web teams can make informed decisions about data retention, data storage, and data transfer.
Alternatively, web marketers using client-side analytics vendors must leave those decisions to the vendor. As European marketers affected by the introduction of GDPR know, taking ownership of your data can prevent headaches down the road as privacy laws become tighter.
The Best of Both Worlds: Upholding Customer Privacy and Preserving Analytics
We certainly support Apple and other vendors who are responding to consumer demands for greater privacy control. However, we also believe that it’s important for marketers who are deploying analytics solutions in good faith be able to do their work well (which often results in happier, more engaged customers).
Hopefully, we’ve been able to demonstrate through this post that when deploying Sitecore, or other server-side analytics solutions, you don't need to sacrifice these two ideals. If you’d like to learn more about how we can help you use Sitecore to implement a robust website analytics solution, feel free to shoot us a note or leave a comment below.