Over the past several months, Apple has continued to bolster security and privacy features across its product portfolio, from changes to IDFA on iOS to ITP updates across iOS browsers.

According to reports, as Apple continues to take the strategic stance that privacy is a right for all users, the tech giant is taking steps to grant users more ability to opt-out of any type of targeting or tracking.

One of the biggest privacy updates from Apple’s recent ITP (Intelligent Tracking Protection) changes is mitigation for CNAME cloaking on Safari. 

If it sounds a little confusing – this post will help you better understand how these changes could affect your ability to track and collect data (especially for advertisers who use third-party trackers to measure campaign views and engagement).

Here’s everything you need to know about CNAME cloaking and Apple’s latest changes. 
 

What is a CNAME?

 
To understand CNAME cloaking, you first need to understand CNAME records.

  • CNAME connects all the various online resources you would use to your main domain.
  • CNAME records track which subdomains are connected to a single registrable domain, and in turn, a single IP address. 

 
For example, a CNAME record can map the subdomains www.blog.example and comments.blog.example to the domain blog.example. In that case, all cookies are set to cover the blog.example site, including login cookies and user identity cookies, can be carried over to comments.blog.example. Those subdomains can also set first-party cookies for the registrable domain.
 

What is CNAME cloaking?

 
CNAME cloaking is a workaround used to disguise a third-party domain as part of the first-party domain, allowing the third-party to track as a first-party.

Essentially, CNAME cloaking lets third-party trackers circumvent ad blockers for data collection and tracking. Unfortunately, this poses a significant privacy risk for users and websites alike.

So, how is CNAME cloaking a risk to data collection?

When third-party trackers pose as subdomains of those websites, they can track customer data and activity with first-party permissions. That’s precisely why Apple has introduced new CNAME cloaking mitigations as part of its recent ITP updates. CNAME circumvention is just another attempted workaround that Apple has firmly stated they don’t want companies using this method to track and collect data (and will be putting a process in place to flag anyone who is using a CNAME circumvention).
 

How will Apple’s change impact advertisers?

 
As companies like Apple and Google continue to crack down on third-party tracking and data policies, advertisers will need to adapt and find new ways to deliver targeted advertising. For example, experts in the field have predicted the “death of the cookie” and a “cookie-less future.” (Learn more about why third-party cookies are going away in this article.)
 

Time to say bye to CNAME cloaking and hello to privacy-first strategies

 
We predict that these changes will make it more difficult for advertisers to track attribution, making Media Mix Modeling (MMM) and segmented incrementality all the more important. The ability to understand audiences and the value of first-party data are more critical to advertisers than ever before. 

If you think about it this way – CNAME cloaking (and other workarounds) are what many consider a quick fix (and a bit of a grey hat strategy) but not a long-term solution. Apple (and other platforms) will continue to make adjustments and policies that favor the security of the user.

Why waste your time on quick fixes if you will ultimately have to reconfigure the issue in a few months (or a couple of years)?

Emerging MMM strategies (with privacy in mind) allow advertisers to optimize each marketing channel and deliver effective targeted advertising without relying on third-party tracking data. Rather than tracking specific conversions or actions, MMM looks at overall marketing spend allocation and creates a cause-and-effect model. Media Mix Modeling helps marketers answer:

  • What is my impact across digital channels? 
  • What is the right mix of spend allocation that drives the highest ROI?
  • How will the channels perform in the future based on their optimized spend allocation?

To learn more about how MMM can help you understand the real impact of your marketing dollars across multiple channels, here’s an overview of how media mix modeling works and how businesses can use analytics to drive smarter ad spend decisions. 

“The advertising industry will rally together and develop new, alternative methods for delivering targeted advertising. We will see a wave of new measurement solutions and identifiers emerge in a collective effort to set new privacy-compliant industry standards.” 

Kolin Kleveno, SVP of Addressable Audiences at Tinuiti

All in all, online privacy is here to stay. To find out everything you need to know about the new restrictions, cookies, IDFA, first-party data, and all things privacy from our Tinuiti experts, check out The Future of the Web

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