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The rumour of an Apple search engine is not a new one. In fact, Apple was first spotted hiring for a project called ‘Apple Search’ in 2015.

However, these same rumours seem to have reached fever pitch in recent months following a host of significant clues, including enhanced search capabilities in the iOS14 update, the 2018 hiring of former Google head of search John Giannandrea and a reported increase in the activity of Applebot, a web crawler created by the company to search for new sites and content to index.

But perhaps the biggest indication that Apple is launching its own search engine is simply the fact that it makes sense. While Google has long been preinstalled on Apple devices – at a hefty cost – there is increased scrutiny around the deal. The UK Competition and Markets Authority recently noted that the partnership is “affecting competition” in the search space. There’s also the fact that Safari is the second biggest browser on the internet, with close to a 20 percent market share according to statcounter.

All the pieces are in place for Apple to launch a search engine with the scale and capability to take on Google – so the question then becomes, how would an Apple search engine change the online advertising game?

A privacy-led search engine?

Apple has always emphasised its stance on privacy as a key differentiator between itself and the likes of Google and Facebook. 

Given this privacy-led approach, it is hard to imagine an Apple search engine that emulates Google’s search model of tracking and profiling users to serve targeted ads.

However, given the amount of money Apple is likely investing into its search product and the loss of revenue if it were to remove Google as the default browser, Apple Search will still have to serve ads in order to generate income.

Apple already serves ads on both the App Store and Apple News in the form of ‘interest-based’ ads, which are based on App Store search history and Apple News reading history, as well as location information.

The company says this is all about giving users the “best advertising experience” and offers easy-to-use opt-out controls.

Aggregated search data?

There’s no doubt that creation of an Apple Search Engine could lead to a more privacy-centred search space.

However, it is also important to remember that there are already solutions in place that promote privacy in the search space. In recent years, Google has been making its aggregated search data increasingly available as a way to help marketers gain an understanding of their audience without encroaching on an individual’s privacy.

In 2017 the company debuted The Insight Engine Project, which gave publishers access to the age, gender, relevant search history and shopping history of a user. Useful on its own, this data can provide added benefit to a business that combines it with their own first-party data when creating a strategy or building a campaign.

At smrtr, we’ve used aggregated Google search data and mapped it geographically, before then applying it to our own data universe. Through Google making this Search data commercially available, we are able to broaden our data and help our partners gauge a wider understanding of their customers and potential customers. It will be interesting to see whether Apple chooses to make its search data commercially available in this way.

While we can’t know for certain what an Apple search engine will look like, we can be sure that when it comes it will be one of the most significant steps away from the cookie-based targeting model that has typified online advertising for the past decade.

At smrtr we are ready for this pivot away from cookies and offer our partners privacy-compliant data segmentation solutions that provide information on real people, not just devices. To find out more contact us and we’ll be in touch in the next work day.

By Steve Millward, General Manager – Commercial at smrtr