Private Click Measurement:
Conversion Fraud Prevention and Replacement For Tracking Pixels

Welcome to the fourth feature update on Private Click Measurement, our proposed web standard for measuring advertising in a privacy-preserving way. More precisely three major and two minor updates to PCM, all available in iOS/iPadOS 15.4 and macOS Monterey 12.3.

Major updates:

  • Conversion fraud prevention. This enables merchant websites to sign unlinkable tokens and get proof in the attribution report that it was triggered by a trustworthy conversion event.
  • Replacement for third-party tracking pixels. Merchant websites can now trigger a conversion event through a same-site pixel which removes the need to call any third-parties in PCM.
  • Measurement of clicks in cross-site iframes. Many publishers want to isolate ads on their site in cross-site iframes. Now clicks in such iframes can be measured too.

What is Private Click Measurement?

Private Click Measurement, or PCM, is a proposed web standard for measuring the effectiveness of click-through advertising in a privacy-preserving way. It allows for 8 bits of data on the click source site to be combined with 4 bits of data on the click destination site to measure which clicks are driving conversions. The combined 8+4 bits of data is sent to both the click source and destination in an attribution report that doesn’t carry any user or device identifiers. The net result is a report that says “Someone who clicked ad X on website A later converted with value Y on website B.”

PCM was made available as a beta in May 2019, and then shipped 2021 in iOS/iPadOS 14.5 and in Safari 14.1 on macOS. Its privacy-preserving nature means it can be used without getting the user’s permission to track according to AppTrackingTransparency.

Conversion Fraud Prevention

In July 2021 we presented our beta feature for click fraud prevention in PCM. It allows the click source website to sign an unlinkable token at the time of the click navigation, which results in a signed token being included in the resulting attribution report. Today we present the same capability for the click destination website.

PCM’s triggering event is a redirect to the well-known path .well-known/private-click-measurement/trigger-attribution/. Now that redirect supports a query string parameter called attributionDestinationNonce. If a nonce is included in the redirect, it triggers WebKit to ask the click destination server to sign an unlinkable token.

Step 1: Generate an RSA Key Pair

Unlinkable tokens require a public key for token generation and validation, and a corresponding private key for signing. PCM supports three different RSA key sizes: 2048, 3072 and 4096 bits. The expected encoding of the public key is a Base64URL encoded (using RFC4648 section 5) SPKI with the RSA-PSS OID and the parameters corresponding to the RSABSSA IETF draft. Examples of such key encodings are included in an earlier blog post.

Step 2: Add the Query Parameter attributionDestinationNonce

The triggering event should look like this to opt in to conversion fraud prevention:

… redirects to …

The attributionDestinationNonce is only in place to help the click destination server know the context for which it’s signing an unlinkable token. When the click destination server is asked to sign an unlinkable token, it’ll get the attributionDestinationNonce and can make a decision as to whether the triggering event was trustworthy or not.

The attributionDestinationNonce needs to be a Base64URL encoded 128-bit/16-byte value. Any smaller or larger value will cancel the issuance flow of the fraud-prevention signature. Any non Base64URL encoded value will also cancel the token transaction. Web Inspector will log a warning if the attributionDestinationNonce is malformed.

Step 3: Respond to a Request for Your Public Key

The browser and any validating party needs to be able to fetch your public key at any point in time from this well-known location: https://clicksource.example/.well-known/private-click-measurement/get-token-public-key/.

Replacement For Third-Party Tracking Pixels

Previous versions of PCM required HTTP requests on the click destination site to go to the click source site. This was designed to enable reuse of existing cross-site tracking pixels that no longer carry cookies under tracking prevention.

For new adoption of PCM, for instance onboarding a new publisher site where ads are shown, there’s no need to add such legacy pixels. Longer term, we want to remove support for triggering events through cross-site tracking pixels since even though they don’t carry cookies, they do ping third-party domains that may be categorized as trackers. Many websites want to be completely tracker-free and we’re happy to be able to support that with PCM while still allowing for click measurement across websites.

Click destination sites can now signal a triggering event through a same-site pixel. It looks like below.

Same-site subresource request to:

… redirects to same-site well-known location:

The above redirect tells PCM to schedule an attribution report if there is a pending attribution from clickSource.example.

Why not a JavaScript API to trigger attribution without cross-site pixels, you may ask? There are two reasons for that:

  • The standards conversation in W3C Privacy CG told us that some click destination sites have a policy against placing third-party scripts on their websites because of the risky dependencies they introduce. We think that’s a very valid concern, not in the least for user privacy. However, those same click destination sites do not have the same strict policies against pixels. We can given them the API functionality they need by introducing same-site pixels. They can be triggered through actual image elements or through a JavaScript Fetch.
  • We continue to consider it very important that websites should not be able to tell at page load time whether or not the user has PCM (or other ad measurement) features enabled. This is to protect the user’s right to a choice. Pixel APIs don’t reveal if the triggering event is accepted or not. A JavaScript API could be made to not reveal that info either but pixel APIs just do that.

Measurement of Clicks in Cross-Site Iframes

One of the first PCM change requests from the web community was to allow for measurement of clicks that happen in cross-site iframes. This would allow for measurement of advertising isolated in iframes. We’re happy to announce that we now support that. Note that the resulting attribution report is still sent to the two first-party websites, often referred to as the publisher and the merchant.

WebIDL Attributes Now In Camelcase

JavaScript access to PCM’s anchor tag attributes now requires camel-casing. This is the result of interoperability work in web standards. Here’s how it looks:

<a id="test" href="https://clickDestination.example" attributionsourceid=40 attributiondestination="https://clickDestination.example"></a>
    const anchorTag = document.getElementById("test");
    anchorTag.attributionSourceId …;
    anchorTag.attributionDestination …;

Encoding Update for Token Keys

When sending your public key to the browser, it needs to be a 2048, 3072 or 4096 bit RSA public key wrapped with an RSAPSS OID in ASN1 format. See “Step 1: Generate an RSA Key Pair above.” Those bytes then need to be base64 encoded with the URL and filename safe alphabet. Examples of such key encodings are included in an earlier blog post.