Digital ads behaving weird? This might be why.

Digital ads behaving weird? This might be why.

Apple’s tracking policy: what does it mean for platforms, advertisers and you?


With iOS 14, Apple announced a key new privacy feature: the ability to opt-out of third-party tracking while using apps on their iOS devices, as well as Apple TV. This has huge implications for advertisers: if users opt-out on mass and can no longer be tracked. Here we ask ourselves how can data be gathered to inform decisions about target users for ads?



This decision has been controversial, and lead to Apple delaying the rule change in order to give advertisers, developers and others time to adjust to the new model. What does this mean? We have been beavering away to make sure we evolve as technology does. iOS 14.5:11 will be hitting very soon.



What does this mean technically?


The feature allows for iOS users to block developers from accessing the ‘IDFA’, or ‘ID for Advertisers’. This a ‘random device identifier’ assigned to each iOS device. Despite already being depersonalised for data protection reasons, it is the bedrock of advert targeting on mobile; and continuing to access it after a user has denied access will result in an app’s removal from the App Store. Things like retargeting, segmentation, lookalike audiences, and other things all rely on tracking the IDFA.


Disabling this function would mean that, for example, users will no longer be tracked when they click on a link, or more importantly an advert, within an app. This means data about what demographic; geographic or other factors inform someone’s likelihood of clicking on an ad will not be collected. In turn, this would affect advertiser’s ability to target their ads as they are no longer receiving as much data to inform future decisions.

That said, all direct tracking links will continue to work, such as when links are followed in newsletters and ads. Only cookies tracking will be affected, and only Apple users have the choice to stop tracking so far.


What will this mean for the advertising sector?


One scenario may be that we see rates for targeted advertising fall due to a decline in valuable tracking data, making ads more difficult to target in the hyper-specific way they had been before, thereby becoming less effective and valuable to businesses. Apps that heavily rely on advertising for revenue may have to move to paid models.

Some advertising networks and companies have criticised Apple’s decision, including Facebook who ran a full-page newspaper ad and launched a website claiming Apple’s changes will hurt small businesses. ‘We disagree with Apple’s approach and solution, yet we have no choice but to show Apple’s prompt. If we don’t, they will block Facebook from the App Store, which would only further harm the people and businesses who rely on our services.



Some companies have come out in support, including the non-profit Electronic Frontier Foundation called Facebook’s criticisms ‘laughable’, while Mozilla called it a ‘huge win for consumers’. Google is yet to take a stance but warned developers that they may see a ‘significant impact’ to their Google ad revenue from iOS once the rules come into effect. They have also stopped collecting IDFAs across their iOS apps, so they don’t have to present the permission prompt in their apps.


How can advertisers mitigate the effects of these rule changes?


However, it is still possible that workarounds will be found, especially by larger platforms such as Facebook. They will either use their vast resources to find workarounds for advertisers or find new ways of using their own abundance of first-party data to give advertisers more targeting tools to work with, either in the quantity of targeting metrics, targeting quality, or both.


Advertisers themselves will have to respond in turn by researching the sector-specific implications of this change for them and responding accordingly. Depending on their position within the industry this may mean maximising opt-in rates so that users continue to share their IDFAs, finding new ways of tracking them, or developing new strategies.


This is a big challenge that will affect a lot of people, so liaising with others in your industry at conferences and other events to discuss the implications of these changes and knowledge share about solutions will be very valuable. If you are doing it yourself, seek help from a professional company who will have had this on the radar for many months now.


While it does mean that there will likely be a drop in traceable data, many users will still give their consent to their IDFAs being tracked without much thought, similarly to how many will just click ‘Accept’ to cookie notifications while browsing online. It is a strong possibility that platforms will also try to find a way to incentivise ‘opting in’ to this tracking by adding additional features for those who do.


The good thing is that there are LOTS of ways to market your products and by hiring experienced professionals, you do not need to re-invent the wheel with your digital marketing campaigns. Let us know if you have any questions!

Jo Pennell
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