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If Apple’s version of the digital universe were to reach real scale, then alongside privacy legislation, it poses the greatest challenge to the development of digital. 

One day this May, when Apple’s market cap took it past Microsoft, alarm bells should have been ringing much more loudly in the digital sector than they did.

Apple’s new peak, at $221bn, $3bn more than Microsoft, was reached the month after the company had unveiled the iPad and its mobile advertising platform, iAds. In other words, it was the month after Apple’s long-awaited media play became reality.

Those in the first wave of iAds were recently revealed, have a look at Nissan’s iAd for the Leaf electric car to see one of the first examples. It is a reminder that we should be thinking about how on earth our existing digital ecosystem remains relevant when Apple’s own is growing evermore powerful. For this is at least as challenging a trend as privacy legislation, the rise of social media, or the new, ‘network’ approach to display advertising.

The threat of Apple is revealed in its model of success. The company has built the best, most usable consumer electronics on the planet by keeping the development of device and operating system, the first two steps in a user’s path to accessing content or services on any device, in exactly the same place. It also exercises fierce control over the third step: application.

This model is the only way to deliver seamless user experiences but it also ensures that everyone else is locked out. Consider some examples of how the developing, parallel digital ecosystem built by Apple might be a real problem for the existing industry:

  • In Apple’s world, the browser of choice, Safari, does not accept 3rd-party cookies by default. How can we target/retarget/behaviourally target ads to users and gain (and remember) their permission for these things when we can’t cookie them?
  • In Apple’s world, the advertising platform, iAds, in no way syncs with existing ad serving systems such as DoubleClick. How can we serve and track campaigns across both platforms in an integrated way?
  • In Apple’s world, all the development going on outside it is, at best, tangential. How can we plan, innovate and develop for two, parallel, universes?

If Apple’s version of the digital universe were to reach real scale, then it poses an enormous challenge to the development of digital. One signal of its success is the amount of people accessing digital content through Safari compared with other browsers.

TagMan.com’s site analytics reveals that, over the past year, share of traffic to the site via Safari grew more than 80%, a higher growth in share than any other browser.

If more people are coming to digital services through the Apple-controlled ecosystem of which Safari is a fundamental part, then cookies, and all the digital marketing and media that rely on them, are in danger of becoming obsolete.

Paul Cook

Published 15 September, 2010 by Paul Cook

Paul Cook, the founder of RedEye and TagMan, is a contributor to Econsultancy.  

28 more posts from this author

Comments (11)

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Shock Me

And the problem with obsolete cookies is?

about 6 years ago

Paul Cook

Paul Cook, Director at NCC Web Performance

Hi - a great question that does much to explain the poorness with which the digital industry, of which I am a part of course, has explained what it does, how and why.

So, in short, cookies fund the web.

In medium, the vast bulk of websites are ad funded and online advertising is delivered and tracked through cookies. Without cookies, advertisers can't deliver their ads and track their performance on, for example, Facebook.

So, without cookies, either Facebook has to find a new way to justify advertisers' expenditure on ads on its site (but since cookies also allow it to tell advertisers how many people use its site and how, that would be very difficult and costly) OR it has to find a new way to fund itself = subscription probably. In other words, we would all have to start paying to use websites.

Hope that helps and I'm very aware that very little has been done to let the general public know why and how we track their online behaviour. Remember too that this data cannot be tied to an actual person - it is just, if you like, 'Person A, saw this ad, clicked on this ad, and bought this etc.'


about 6 years ago



First, Safari does the right thing for the user, it puts the user first... specifically:

"Safari accepts cookies only from websites you open. This might help prevent certain advertisers from storing cookies on your computer. You can change your cookies preferences so that Safari accepts no cookies or accepts all cookies."

Certain advertisers need to change their ways. AND, well designed websites do not suffer from the stale cookie affliction, or this doomsday mindset. Facebooks ads are tracked (even in default Safari). Count your beans with it!

If users need, want or do not want cookies they can accept all or reject all.

Second, the digital world as we all know would exist we it not for companies like Google, Apple, etc... who are constantly driving forward. so complaining about them is just futile, they are moving forward at a pace that is fast and furious.

If you want better measures you need a better system than cookies. the tighly integrated approach will have a strong ROI for the advertiser, and better value for the viewer.

i see no problem here.

about 6 years ago


Joseph Futral

The problem with cookies has always been that they are covert. On top of that Adobe makes Flash cookies doubly covert by bypassing browser settings.

The second problem has been that they are (unless someone knows what cookies are and how to set security settings) opt-in by default. Facebook tries that and people hate it there, too. Banks tried that with their policies and see how far that got them.

The third problem is exactly what you posit:

"why and how we track their online behaviour."

No one likes to be tracked. Period. No one cares if you can identify a particular person or not. Track enough behaviour and it is possible to identify someone on that behaviour alone. Never mind the skepticism about the ability to actually identify someone through the web.

Quite frankly I am perturbed that all these people try to make money off of me and my information and not give me a cut of the profits. You want my info? Pay me for it, not Adobe, or Facebook, or whoever else thinks they have data. Then you might, maybe, possibly get my cooperation.

Trouble finding a business model? My heart bleeds. Welcome to capitalism. Cookies do not "fund the web". They fund businesses trying to profit off the web. The web will exist whether cookies and ads are possible or not. And the SMART business and entrepreneur will figure out a way to make money with or without cookies.

Can't make money without cookies for ads or "tracking my behaviour"? Cry me a river.


about 6 years ago


Carlton Duke

Joseph Futral's comments are right on target!!

about 6 years ago



@Joseph Futral +2

The whole premise of this post/moan is based on the assumption that 

1. Tracking is desirable for both business and consumer.

2. Tracking is necessary for the continuation of the web.

3. Because Apple is successful with their model, that other companies have a right to a share of their profit.

Well, wrong, wrong and thrice wrong.

If your argument was purely business related then I 'might' have some sympathy, though on second thought - no, I have no sympathy for company leeching techniques, but to involve the consumer as though they are missing out on something desirable is laughably ignorant and detrimental to an individual's freedom.

Apple doesn't do everything right, but their stance on 3rd party analytics and tracking is commendable imo

about 6 years ago


Mike Milton

I can think of few things more appealing than the demise of doubleclick

about 6 years ago

Paul Cook

Paul Cook, Director at NCC Web Performance

Hi all,

And thanks all for your comments. If anyone in the digital sector (which by the way includes Apple, Google and everyone else that drives its development, including, ahem, me) was in any doubt about the strength of feeling towards 'cookies', they should be no longer.

But, it should also remove any doubt too about how important it should have been for the industry to communicate better with consumers about how online advertising works.

There's clearly no way I can change the perceptions of the commenters here (and millions like them) in one post and subsequent comments, but maybe I can make a start.

Apple as an advertiser in the primary digital ecosystem utterly relies on cookies as much as anyone else - I'll try and be clear, cookies run the web - they are the foundation for everything from Amazon remembering passwords to Google proving the worth of paid-search advertising (without which it would have no revenues to speak of).

If we're talking just 3rd-party cookies then, again, Apple - as an advertiser relies on these as much as the next company. Google OWNS DoubleClick - the biggest deliverer of 3rd-party cookies in the Western world. That doesn't make them bad - that is how online advertising works.

The issue for me is about the industry being gigantically more transparent about what it does - what cookies are for and how (as well as what) data is collected and used. Then it's about offering CLEAR opt-out/opt-in options. I should also say that my company - which is in the business of tracking - enables complete opt-out for consumers from our clients' tracking, as well as enabling those clients to offer transparent opt-out options themselves. We fully recognise the risks the industry is taking by not offering these things up to now.

Lastly, as Wired's Chris Anderson puts it, the price of free IS our information - no-one should be in any doubt that we don't have to pay for the vast majority of services on the web precisely because of cookies. Let's just ensure we're all as informed as we need to be before making judgements.



about 6 years ago


joseph Futral

"it's about offering CLEAR opt-out/opt-in options."

But it is NEVER default opt-out. EVER. That is a serious issue.

"the price of free IS our information "

But rarely has anyone given me the option of pay vs free. That's why I prefer paying for TV shows on Apple vs Hulu or the network websites. I don't want to sit through ads. (Never mind so many TV shows are actually BETTER without ad interruptions.)

I don't care WHO relies on cookies. I'd tell them the same thing. I hate not EVER being given the option.

I still strongly disagree. Cookies do not run the web. Cookies are not needed on the web. Cookies are needed by companies trying to make money off the web. The web existed long before any company tried to make money off of web advertising.


about 6 years ago



@Joseph Futral In fairness cookies are physically required for some parts of the web, helpful apps that remember your password or preferences on somewhere like the BBC homepage would be an example of that. I do agree with you that there's a problem when it comes to transparency and opting out. Ideally tracking cookies should be opt-IN and people do need to be more informed. @Paul Cook Agreed that advertising pays a large part of funding some parts of the web (not all), but I disagree with your assertion that tracking cookies are an essential part of that. Lets be honest, cookies benefit us, the advertisers, and not the end user. We get better stats and ROI information, sometimes we get better sales, but none of this should be at the expense of people's privacy. I'll give you an example - I checked out the trade in price of my car on a fairly well known site, got the price and decided it was too low. The car, and the company, then proceeded to stalk me across the internet despite me clearing the cookies, causing a huge amount of irritation; eventually had to go digging in my flash settings to get rid of the thing. The point of this? Tracking cookies aren't smart enough to offer true tailored advertising, they don't know why we didn't take a quote, or buy the shorts etc. In addition it's creepy -despite my understanding of the how and why of cookies and tracking the ad prompted a negative emotional response in me, the potential customer, because it was less 'things you might like' and more 'I followed you into that shop and now I'll follow you into the next one and tell the guy at the counter what you've just done'. I applaud your company's stance on offering complete opt-out and being transparent, but ideally tracking cookies need to be opt-IN, that way you're actively engaging with people who want to buy, want to be advertised to while they surf. As for the rest, we as an industry will just have to work a little harder at creating engaging campaigns and content that people want to engage with. Auto opt-in is lazy man's marketing.

about 6 years ago

Wyndham Lewis

Wyndham Lewis, Head of Business Development at Harvest Digital

Fortunately the market capitalisation doesn't equate to market penetration of devices.  Apple's market share is relatively small with about 6% of the market.  Whilst the paranoic control that they exert has been good in the short run for user experience we all know what happens to walled gardens in the longer term.  Apple cannot and will not control everything on their own terms forever or they will be doomed to repeat the mistakes of their past.   

about 6 years ago

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