What’s going on with the user privacy changes in iOS 14 and their impact on app tracking?
iOS 14 has brought some major changes to its privacy features to give more control to its users!
These changes will impact tracking for half of all mobile device users in the United States. It will also affect advertising platforms like Facebook and Google (and they are not very happy with this update).
In this guide, we will see how the changes in iOS 14 will impact tracking and analytics and who are the stakeholders.
Here’s what we’ll cover:
- Collecting and protecting personal data
- The changes in iOS 14 that affect tracking
- Effects on app developers, advertising platforms, marketers
- Solutions to new tracking hurdles
So let’s dive in!
Collecting and Protecting Personal Data
New laws and regulations continually respond to changes in data tracking.
For example, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) mandates user consent and protection of personal data in the European Union.
Other laws like the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) help protect data in the United States.
These legal mandates help ensure proper data handling from tech businesses. And for companies that generate revenue primarily from advertising (think: Facebook and Google), this legislation is especially important.
But some businesses have prioritized data privacy all on their own. One company just stepped up to really take it to the next level: Apple.
Apple has consistently branded itself as the privacy-conscious company. Now, it’s spotlighting privacy with iOS 14.
What makes Apple’s approach so different from that of other big tech companies?
It all comes down to the business model.
User data is a huge asset to companies that rely primarily on ad revenue. Data regulation practices can be restrictive for these types of businesses.
But Apple’s central business model is selling devices. Strict data regulation has a much smaller effect on their revenue. To the savvy consumer, data-secure devices are even more desirable. Data privacy actually becomes profitable instead of restrictive.
Announced in June 2020 at Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference, iOS 14 launched in September. And by December 15, 2020, 72% of all Apple devices had already upgraded to the new operating system.
With so many users on iOS 14, what does this mean for tracking and analytics?
iOS 14 Changes that Impact Tracking
IDFA (Identifier for Advertisers)
IDFA is similar to advertising cookies, but for mobile apps. It helps to identify a user when that user revisits an app.
With iOS 14, apps will now be required to get permission from the users to use IDFA.
It is an essential part of any readvertising/remarketing campaign. Such campaigns have become quite popular in recent times and thus a lot of advertisers use IDFAs for tracking.
If the IDFA is not available to us, it becomes difficult to identify users and track them. This makes it tough to put our finger on the exact marketing efforts that are working most effectively!
The next big change that has come about with iOS 14 is how it treats privacy policies.
Apple will now ask all the apps to provide their privacy practices before onboarding the Apple Store. And if an app uses a third-party code, it will need to provide the details on any data that is collected and how that data is handled.
The new policy also allows users to request data deletion. This provision is similar to the “right to erasure” or the “right to be forgotten” clause of the GDPR in Europe. Data deletion aims to empower the user to control their own data.
But this provision also gives an immense amount of power to Apple.
Apple rules the App Store, which has huge monetary value. With these rules, Apple will have the authority to remove any app from its store for non-compliance. And whether Apple chooses to use this power or abuse it is in its own hands.
User Permission for Tracking Data
Apple has introduced a new App Tracking Transparency framework, under which you must request permission from the user to track data.
Under this framework, you can only access the user device’s identifier if the user grants permission.
It is possible that many users will deny permission to be tracked for targeted advertisements. Advertisers might have to prepare to settle with generic advertisements that aren’t as profitable.
Who Will Be Affected By The Changes in iOS 14?
These new changes will definitely affect all the stakeholders of the digital marketing industry in some or the other way. But some entities will be affected more than the others.
App developers have new benchmarks to meet if they want to sell their products in the App Store.
Besides compliance with new privacy requirements, developers also need to program their apps with automatic pop-ups to ask for user permission to do any kind of tracking.
Then, if the user denies the permission to track data, the advertisers will then have to show only generic advertisements. Realistically, this will affect revenue and the bottom line.
Moving forward, app developers may be better off with a new revenue model. They’ll probably either charge a fixed price for their apps or a subscription-based fee.
Again, the one entity that benefits the most out of this revenue model is Apple.
Currently, Apple takes 20-30% of every payment on the App Store as a fee. Converting from free apps to paid ones will definitely give a boost to Apple’s profits. So, it is not surprising that companies like Facebook (with free apps that rely on ad revenue) are less than happy with this move.
When advertisers can’t target specific audiences or track campaign success, they’ll likely find less value in advertising platforms.
For example, techniques currently used by platforms like Facebook Audience Network might become ineffective.
Since fewer ads shown through the platform will result in clicks or conversions, these platforms may lose popularity and clients if they don’t adapt to Apple’s new policies.
Google, on the other hand, has decided to go with the flow. It has updated Google AdMob’s privacy features and is making the best out of the situation.
And now the big bottom line: Will you, as advertisers, lose any data? How much chaos will this create in your analytics?
Firstly, the Safari browser is still the same.
So anything that works on the Safari browser remains unaffected. This means the advertisers can still use Facebook Pixel in the same way without losing any of their Safari audience.
Secondly, marketing on Facebook itself won’t change much.
The Facebook app requires a user login, so it has its own system to identify users. Thus, retargeting users on Facebook will only be partially affected.
This generally applies to all parts of the Facebook ecosystem (including Instagram and WhatsApp). But anything that is outside Facebook’s infrastructure might not have as big of a targeting possibility anymore.
With this, the advertisers will have smaller and less powerful platforms for marketing. This will most likely impact their overall conversions and revenue.
Additionally, with fewer slots for ads (i.e. short supply for similar demand), advertising will become more expensive in general.
This might get you thinking: can you still get low-cost clicks through the Facebook Audience Network on iOS?
To know for sure, we’ll need to keep monitoring the new advertisement parameters for a while—but we hope to find a positive solution.
But remember that advertisers have always worked with imperfect tracking data. This isn’t really new for us.
The best path forward is to understand how these changes will affect the quality of data, then tweak their tracking accordingly to continue maximizing campaign performance.
Solutions for Tracking with iOS 14
If you’re a marketer, updates like this can be challenging to work around. But there are a few changes you can make to your tracking and analytics to keep as much useful data as possible.
If you only have a website and not an app, you only need to consider changes in the Safari browser.
In this case, the only thing that you really have to worry about is the updated Intelligent Tracking Prevention (ITP) and its new Privacy Reports.
However, there aren’t really any workarounds for the challenges presented by the ITP. So for now, you should pay attention to how your data is affected and make your best, most educated guesses about what you’re missing.
For mobile apps, you may have more options if you want to pursue alternative methods of tracking user activities.
If you have a mechanism to identify the user by yourself (such as a user login), then you can probably continue tracking users across multiple sessions even without the IDFA.
You can also try server-side tracking with Google Tag Manager. With this method, you don’t need to send your data to Facebook or Google Analytics directly.
That said, server-side tracking is only a partial solution that is challenging to implement. You’ll probably need your developers to implement this, and it requires a very secure policy for handling data.
And as a best practice, you should always inform your users what you’re actually doing with the data collected with server-side tracking.
We all can agree that the changes in iOS 14 are significant and can’t be ignored!
Advertising platforms like Facebook have criticized them for being intrusive. With features like the consent popup, users are sure to opt out of getting tracked.
Advertisers will lose some advertising data or targeting possibilities. There’s no getting around that. We already know some possible workarounds to minimize the effect, but they are not end-all solutions.
It is more important to accept these changes like we had accepted GDPR, CCPA, and ITP 2.1. Such changes are here to stay, and we should expect similar changes in the coming years. The technology and marketing industry is constantly changing, especially where user privacy is concerned.
We’ll need to learn to work with the data that we have, see what its impact is and then adjust our marketing accordingly. We can change our budget around, change the targeting around and still find the most profitable spaces for us.
What are your thoughts on such privacy policies? How do you plan to deal with it? Let us know in the comments below!