Written by Daniel “Hands” Crayner and David Bressler.

“This one’s for our mothers.”



What is the purpose of the article?

With the planned early 2021 release of iOS14, Apple will be offering users the ability to block the IDFA identifier across all applications. 

You may be asking yourself – what the heck is an IDFA? IDFA refers to “Identifiers for Advertisers,” which is a persistent ID used by mobile devices running on an Apple operating system. This identifier is shared with app developers, mobile measurement providers, and ad networks like Facebook and Google for audience targeting, measurement/attribution and cross-environment frequency capping. IDFAs are equivalent to third-party cookies in web browsers, but for Apple’s mobile apps.

Nearly all ad networks rely on IDFAs. Google Analytic/Firebase use them for demographics and remarketing. Mobile app attribution providers like Branch and Kochava rely on them to power their attribution capabitilies. 

IDFA actually isn’t changing at all. Digital marketers will still be able to do everything mentioned above, but there’s simply going to be less of them. With the release of iOS14, Apple is moving away from an opt-out method of user consent to an opt-in method, which we believe will result in a much lower percentage of users’ IDFA being available. Apple users will be shown a consent pop-up, like the image below. For every user that opts out of IDFA tracking, that is one less Apple user you’ll be able to target and measure. The percentage of users that will opt-in is uncertain, but we expect it to be high – especially as Apple continues to promote their stance on privacy. Some folks are saying it will be 1%, others think it will be as high as 50%.

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Why is Apple doing this?

Apple’s official statement to app developers is as follow: 

The App Store now helps users better understand an app’s privacy practices before they download the app on any Apple platform. On each app’s product page, users can learn about some of the data types the app may collect, and whether that data is linked to them or used to track them. You’ll need to provide information about your app’s privacy practices, including the practices of third-party partners whose code you integrate into your app, in App Store Connect. This information is required to submit new apps and app updates to the App Store.

The level of detail that Apple is requesting from mobile apps is very specific, emphasizing the importance of data transparency. The list of data that apps will need to provide include the following:

  • Contact information (email, phone number)
  • Health & fitness (exercise data, data from APIs from other sources/apps)
  • Financial (credit score, bank account number, salary, income)
  • Location
  • Sensitive information (religion, political affiliation)
  • Contacts (user’s address book)
  • User contact (text messages, photos)
  • Search history (search queries)
  • Identifiers (screen name, customer ID)
  • Purchases (transaction history)
  • Usage data (listening to music, taps/clicks)
  • Diagnostics (app crashes, energy usage)

What is Apple doing in regards to tracking & attribution?

A couple of years ago, Apple released the SKAd Network – an API that would allow mobile app install attribution while preserving privacy. This API which will not share any user, or device-level data with an advertiser. This changes the way that mobile app conversion tracking and attribution works moving forward. The SKAd Network will cut back significantly on tracking and attribution features and allow only for:

  • Only allow for click-based attribution.
  • Provide conversions in batches with a latency between 24 – 48 hours. No date stamp parameter will be provided.
  • Limit Campaign IDs to 100 per ad network.

SKAd will also move away from variable lookback windows and instead feature only a post click window of 30-60 days. 

What are Facebook and Google doing about this and what do we need to do?

Both ad networks have shared their recommendations on how to minimize the loss of tracking/attribution, while still abiding by Apple’s proposed changes/guidelines.

Facebook

  • If using the FB Pixel, verify your domain in Business Manager.
  • If using the Facebook SDK, update to the latest SDK, version 8.1 or above.

Google

  • Consolidate campaigns: Reduce the number of campaigns per app to significantly less than 100.
  • Migrate off tROAS bidding: Use tCPA as a bidding strategy rather than tROAS for iOS.
  • Monitor impact of shifted lookback window.

What do we think measurement & attribution will look like in the future?

As we get closer to the iOS14 rollout, we expect ad networks, specifically Facebook and Google, to provide more transparency (that’s ironic!) around how they plan on measuring and tracking Apple users. Facebook already announced that they will be hosting webinars in early 2021 about how to continue reaching customers and driving business outcomes. 

In regards to audience targeting, we believe that ad networks will lose some of their “secret sauce” that drives their algorithmic targeting. Not being able to track in-app data means there’s less data to define an individual person.

Regarding measurement/attribution, we believe ad networks will start to extrapolate app conversion data to estimate Apple iOS14 conversions. If non-iOS14 conversion rate is 5%, there’s no reason to think that iOS14’s will be much different.

Cookie-less tracking and Apple’s iOS14 changes has placed a greater importance on two things – probabilistic modeling and investing in first-party data. Probabilistic modeling allows marketers to understand the causal effect that media can have on app conversions, without a reliance on deterministic/1:1 tracking and attribution. First party data is important, as it provides marketers with the ability to rely on their organization’s own identifiers.