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Advertisers slam Apple for "sabotage"

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser / Axios

A letter signed by nearly every major advertising trade group is criticizing Apple for its plan to use cookie-blocking technology in the updated version of its Safari web browser. In the letter, first obtained by AdWeek, they argue that the change will not only hurt the user experience but will also "sabotage the economic model for the Internet." They say Apple is replacing existing user-controlled cookie preferences with its own set of "opaque and arbitrary standards for cookie handling."

Why it matters: Tech companies are making these types of changes in response to backlash over advertising tactics that create a poor user experience — and now advertisers, who've become accustomed to using them for years, are fighting back.

The resistance follows other major moves by tech companies that seek to end unpleasant user experiences on the web. Earlier this year, Google said it would block traffic to any web page from its Chrome web browser whose ads didn't adhere to third-party standard that's largely agreed upon by most advertisers, but this has proven to be difficult for many websites to implement. Apple also said that it would block any ads accessed through Safari that autoplay video, and many websites autoplay video to be able to sell more ads.

Between the lines: The tech innovations in digital advertising that were embraced by publishers trying to monetize digital content and marketers hoping to better target ads, (like cookie-based targeting, web-tracking, etc.), were largely unregulated when introduced. As a result, the overuse of these tactics has created a unpleasant web experience for users. While most advertisers would agree that something needs to be done to create a less intrusive web environment, some argue that users don't actually want to see these type of changes.

"More than 68 million people that visit the cookies opt-out page have chosen to allow interest-based ads to continue," says Dan Jaffe, EVP at the National Association of Advertisers. "By doing this, Apple is saying 'we know better than consumers what they need.'"

Publishers are caught somewhere in the middle: Dave Grimaldi, EVP of Public Policy at the Interactive Advertising Bureau, says Apple's move "could prevent the types of digital ads that support publishers all across the web," meaning it would limit cheaper data-based ads from being sold. On the other hand, "it could be beneficial to publishers in that advertisers may be more motivated to buy ad inventory directly from publishers, which is far more lucrative for the publisher," says Keith Sibson, VP of Product & Marketing for digital marketing company PostUp.

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