July 16 2020

At the WWDC 2020, Apple announced the iOS 14 release that took place in September 2020. This release introduced a range of changes, the “loudest” one being the new AppTrackingTransparency (ATT) framework, which is supposed to eliminate the IDFA (Identity for Advertisers), although not applicable until ios 14.5 towards the end of quarter 1 of 2021. The news has brought the advertisers’ community into a panic, some of them even calling Apple’s changes the end of the mobile app marketing industry.

In this article, we are going to shed the light upon the challenges and opportunities these changes present for app marketing and explain if it impacts GetSocial.

The importance of the IDFA

First, let’s briefly review the concept of the IDFA and see why it’s so important to mobile advertisers.

IDFA is a way to anonymously identify iOS users. It acts like cookies on websites, collecting information about the user’s interactions with ad campaigns and installs as well as in-app activities. This allows advertisers to show users the targeted ads and offer the right audience to traffic buyers. The IDFA improves user experience and allows iOS app developers to monetize their work.

Here’s how the IDFA works:

Source: appsflyer.com

  1. Based on the user’s preferences, the ad is posted.
  2. The user clicks the ad.
  3. The attribution provider records the IDFA for the specific app being advertised.
  4.  The user downloads and installs an app from the App Store.
  5. The user opens the app for the first time. 
  6. The app is matched with the IDFA for the specific app stored in the database.

How the ATT framework affects the IDFA?

In the previous OS version, the user had the opportunity to turn off the IDFA, but in order to do this, they had to go deep into the settings. In iOS 14, Apple allows the apps (and as a result, the advertisers) to use the IDFA only with a clear confirmation from the users themselves, and this affects absolutely all apps.

In other words, here’s how the iOS 14 changes affect the IDFA:

  • All Apple devices are enabled to limit automatic ad tracking by default.
  • Mobile advertisers must receive the user’s consent before they can read the IDFA.

Assuming that hardly any user would allow apps to track their data, the ATT framework renders the IDFA useless. Even if the user would opt-in to your app, it is likely that they did not opt-in for other apps so you still cannot use the IDFA, getting only partial tracking data. The only alternative that the app developers can benefit from is a collaboration with Apple and their new SKAdNetwork to measure conversion rates of app install campaigns without revealing the user identities. In its turn, Apple will “manage” all advertising publishers, knowing them by ID inside their system.

Unfortunately, other possible alternatives such as fingerprinting and incentivized or mandatory opt-in for users will not work. Apple’s User Privacy and Data Use guidelines mention that as per the Apple Developer Program License Agreement, the developers may not derive data from a device to uniquely identify it, i.e., fingerprinting is prohibited. Additionally, according to the App Store Review Guidelines, the developers cannot incentivize users to enable tracking. Apple defines tracking as the process of linking the user or device data collected from your app with the same data collected from the apps, websites, or offline properties of other companies to perform targeted advertising or collect the advertising metrics. They also refer to tracking as sharing the user or device data with data brokers.

However, fingerprinting for non-paid media is not affected. As always, attribution will be available via probabilistic methods for owned (non-paid) channels, which are exempted from Apple’s new policies.

Advertisers, including Google and Facebook, are calling Apple to account. According to them, a notification with an additional request for permission to collect data can annoy users, which is why they are likely to refuse it. As a result, this will almost certainly lead to a decrease in the effectiveness of advertising and a drop in demand for promoted products.

Obviously, Apple will not agree with advertisers to simplify access to user data. The company has always been very responsible for the confidentiality of their customers, and it is unlikely that they will refuse to protect them. 

How Apple’s changes will affect app marketing?

The iOS 14 release introduces the following changes:

  • The IDFA does not disappear completely, it will require user’s consent to work.
  • If users refuse IDFA, SKAdnetwork will provide basic attribution parameters and campaign information, including the network, publisher, and campaign ID. 
  • Fingerprinting is not valid for paid media if the user does not opt-in.

But at the same time, we still have no answers to the following questions:

  • Can SKAdNetwork provide enough details to make informed decisions?
  • How effective is deep linking with SKAdNetwork?
  • How will protection against fraud work in these new conditions?
  • How many users will agree to the tracking?

Currently, there’s no single standard solution on the market. And therefore, there is no finished product that can offer the same level of accuracy and transparency that the industry has relied on in recent years.

If we take a closer look at the SKAdNetwork specifications, it’s hard to imagine that they satisfy the needs of a modern marketer:

  • According to Apple, only the latest redirect before downloading or reloading will be attributed. It means that there will be no customizable attribution parameters.
  • SKStoreProductView as the recommended ad format does not support the dynamic or delayed deep linking.
  • There will be no retargeting or exclusion targeting available.
  • It is not clear how Apple will ensure fraud prevention and any other data transparency.
  • SKAdNetwork currently only provides ad network data. This data is with very low transparency for everyone else.

Source: developer.apple.com

On the optimistic side, Apple is trying to create a win-win system that it can manage. An approach with the IDFA opt-in and opt-out is designed to restore user confidence, show transparency of advertiser-user-Apple relations, and give the user an understanding of the benefits of using their personal data. It is not profitable for Apple to lose traffic, and publishers need to get familiar with the new conditions.

To work with SKAdNetwork, the ad network must be registered, because Apple takes control over the process in order to have an even faster response to possible inconsistencies with its own policy. To work with this network, the developers should make changes to the apps, showing their readiness to integrate with SKAdNetwork.

How will these changes impact GetSocial? 

Taking into consideration all the changes the iOS 14 release sets in motion, the following question arises: how does this affect GetSocial? We would like to emphasize that GetSocial has always put user privacy first and was not relying on the IDFA for attribution on iOS. Therefore, our product is not affected by this change by any means and our customers can rest assured that our product will continue functioning in the same way. 

The bottom line

In the nearest future, marketers, data managers, and developers will actively discuss what to do and how to find an “approach” to iPhone and iPad users. It will be an interesting global brainstorming process, with webinars and numerous analytical articles, as a result of which we will move to a new stage of advertising promotion. 

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