There’s been a lot of confusion recently around a feature on Apple’s Safari browser which has been widely reported as blocking Google Analytics. With Safari representing a decent chunk of web traffic, this would be concerning if it were true. It’s not, but the background is interesting.
The feature Apple introduced is called Intelligent Tracking Prevention (ITP), and there have been a few iterations over the past two or three years. What ITP does is to intelligent limit ‘third-party cookies’. That means that advertisers or websites are not able to ‘follow you around the internet’ using conventional tracking technology.
Similar abilities also exists in browsers such as Brave and Tor. Others like Chrome will probably follow.
Let’s go back to some basics. Cookies are files created our computers when we visit a website, which record certain interactions on the site. They remain after we leave the site.
First-party cookies are created by the domain we are visiting. These help the user experience and are good. They’re how Amazon remembers our login information, the language we use and the items in our cart. Third-party (or cross-site) cookies are those created by domains other than the one we are visiting, recording data for use by those third-party domains in tracking and online-advertising. These will have been allowed onto the site to do their work by the siteowner. Examples of third-party services which create such cookies include ad retargeting, social buttons and live chat popups.
However, some third-party services can create first-party cookies, because they are not connecting the data to other services. These include Google Analytics, as this article explains.
So, while some cookie control systems (including those built into browsers) do restrict what Google Analytics can do, don’t expect browsers like Safari to disappear from your Google Analytics reports yet.