To a casual observer, the recent iOS 14.4 update and upcoming 14.5 update might have come and gone without remark, as is the case with most iOS updates for all but the most dedicated Apple enthusiasts. However, the changes brought by these updates, both passed and pending, are so impactful that they were the topic of headlines going back as far as June of last year. The reason? Additional privacy permissions they plan to introduce to the operating system, which will greatly change the landscape of marketing and advertising to consumers on iOS devices, and marketers alike.
Some of the proposed changes included greater control over location and ad tracking on the user’s part, as well as explicit permissions for the Identifier for Advertisers (IDFA), a proprietary, anonymized unique identifier that Apple associates with a device which in turn allows for broad targeting and measurement across a variety of apps and sites. All of this comes at a time when new activations of iOS devices are reaching an all-time high. With iOS possessing 44% market share as of this time last year, according to CIRP, any changes to the way advertising is conducted on the operating system are certain to have massive knock-on effects on how marketing and advertising in the US are conducted as a whole.
These changes are so sweeping as to even draw criticism from the likes of Facebook, who focused on the potential negative effect these changes may have on smaller businesses. Less critical of these changes, however, are the consumers themselves. Around the time these changes were first being proposed back in June 2020, Apple was holding their Worldwide Developer Conference, where spokespeople from the company described privacy as a “fundamental human right”. The previous month, a KPMG survey found that 87% of survey respondents held the same belief, and a similarly overwhelming majority felt that responsibility for protecting that privacy should be shared between individuals, companies, and the government.
It is important for any marketer that they understand the full scope of these changes and prepare for them appropriately. In particular, there are two substantial changes and additions included in these updates that are worth looking at in greater detail. First off, the process of harvesting user data from apps is going to be far more explicit than it has been in the past. All apps in the App Store will need to request the user’s permission through the AppTrackingTransparency (ATT) framework to track them or access their device’s IDFA. This grants users the ability to opt-out of targeting and tracking on any iOS app. One aspect of their data that consumers are particularly proprietary about is exact location data, and sharing of this data is also going to become more explicit, with its own specific opt-in options.
The second big change, as a consequence of the first, is that the pool of available users to target on iOS will likely go down significantly. With explicit opt-ins for ad tracking in place, fewer easily attributable eyeballs are going to be active on the platform, making both placement and measurement less effective. There’s no getting around the restriction either, since in addition to IDFA the permission requirement also applies to any other tracking identifier. These changes do not mean iOS users who have opted out will no longer receive ads, but they will not be personalized to them and they have the potential to be irrelevant. This leaves a great opportunity for the advertising industry to adopt new methods of targeting and measurement that meet these new privacy standards. Additionally, this change just further emphasizes the need for brands to invest in their first-party data.
Additionally, on the part of the app developers, earning consumer trust and appropriately incentivizing opt-ins for data sharing will become paramount to remain relevant. In terms of strategy, these changes may lead to an increased focus on real-time advertising, since it is not only effective (consumers increasingly expect their needs to be met in the moment and appreciate when they are, a phenomenon dubbed ‘The Mobile Mindset’ by Forrester Research), it is also not reliant on long-term tracking to get the job done.
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