The latest version of Apple’s mobile operating system, iOS 14 was first released in September 2020. The release was just prior to the launch of the iPhone 12. With the new version Apple’s iOS14.5 forthcoming, many have theorised and discussed its impact on the advertising landscape.

The impacts are significant and may change the operability of digital advertising forever – improving iPhone users’ privacy protection by adding control and creating transparency. Irrefutably, this is Apple’s view and strategy on the fundamental right to ‘privacy first’ for all its users. Earlier this year, Apple introduced an easy-to-read whitepaper about user data. The whitepaper covers to which extent this data is collectable by third parties. This can be a real eye opener to many users who were previously unmindful of their data being collected and utilised for marketing purposes.

The new iOS14.5 update comes with several changes affecting the digital advertising landscape directly and impacting the ability to target users on their iPhones.

Key features of the Apple’s iOS14.5 privacy update that will impact advertisers directly:

  • Each app will have its privacy practices publicly available and transparent in the Appstore.
  • App Tracking Transparency (ATT) will provide controls to users upon opening an App for the first time, asking for permission to track the user.
  • Network access restrictions, preventing apps and sites detecting other devices on the same network. Additionally, a Wi-Fi and Bluetooth privacy feature that will disable networks from tracking the user.
  • A location precision feature, that provides control over the accuracy of location data shared by the user, can now be set to approximate or precise location.
  • Website privacy reports will allow users to get a full understanding of the trackers that are currently tracking them.

What do the Apple’s iOS14.5 features really affect when it comes to advertising?

Having privacy practices publicly available in the App-store may influence a user’s intent to download or use specific apps. Based on the severeness or level of tracking, the user’s choice can make less frequently used apps completely redundant instead. This may result in fewer apps on a user’s phone through which the user can be tracked. This will also result in less data being collected and utilised for granular targeting.

Apple’s user identifier (IDFA) will no longer be trackable when a user chooses to opt-out. This means the IDFA can no longer be used to verify if an app has been downloaded, an online conversion has taken place or when the user visits any specific location with footfall measurement. This applies when the user is served an ad online or in an app for which they did not accept tracking.

The ability for a user to switch from precise to approximate location precision makes proximity targeting and footfall measurement far more complex. As the precision decreases, so will the accuracy of footfall tracking, or any other form of location tracking that requires high levels of accuracy.

Network and Wi-Fi/Bluetooth restrictions will similarly impact the ability of advertisers to detect when a user’s proximity to a store. Bluetooth beacons and wi-fi connections will no longer be able to detect a user in the vicinity. This will limit the insights that can usually be collected.

With the website privacy reports becoming available, user awareness around tracking will further increase. This could increase the number of opt-outs and thus limit tracking.

All the above combined, results in less data collection, fewer audience insights and less personalised advertising. Another result is the problematic conversion attribution based on the lack of IDFA. The ‘targetable & attributable’ reach of users on iOS 14.5 will begin to diminish as soon as the update hits the market. Users will be prompted about app tracking permissions for each of the apps and sites they use.

A glimpse at the solutions for tracking users with Apple’s iOS14.5

  • App installs: SKAdNetwork, Apple’s proprietary tracking solution, will enable advertisers that own an app to track app installs. The solution will also attribute them to their origin (such as ad content and publisher). A limitation here is that conversion data is not available in real-time, but on a daily basis. Furthermore, advertisers need to serve ads on publishers that are connected to the so called SKAD ID. If not, advertisers will lose the ability to attribute the conversion on publishers that are not.
  • Apple’s App-clips: a new feature in the App-store, the feature enables users to use a lighter version or ‘preview’ version of an App before downloading it. This will provide advertisers with a way to pass and receive additional information. For example, a unique click ID can be utilised to tag a user and attribute the download to its origin. An IDFA will not be required and can therefore not be used to personally identify the user.
  • Footfall measurement: Instead of focusing directly on an IDFA requirement for tracking, the focus here can be shifted towards incrementality in the number of users detected on any given location. Of course, with more limited data about the audience visiting the location and with higher discrepancies due to a less precise trackability.
  • Online (web) conversions: As a user visits the advertiser’s website, they will be asked to accept cookies. Upon acceptance the user can be tracked, and conversions can continue to be measured as usual. The aim for advertisers is to achieve a high cookie acceptance rate.

Our expectations for the arrival of iOS14.5

Much is to be seen when the update hits the industry. We will find out; how many users will immediately download the latest version? How many users will refuse tracking on the apps and sites they frequently use? We know there will an impact for certain, how big… is yet to be quantified.

At Mobile Journey, we guide our clients and help them navigate the ever-changing advertising ecosystem, GDPR and security/privacy updates such as iOS 14.5. Want to know more about this and how we handle it? Contact us now.