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What is happening to privacy on the internet?

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With the launch of the iPhone 13 in 2021 came iOS 14 and Apple’s new user privacy features. These features impact advertising, particularly Facebook Ads, so it’s essential to understand how they affect campaigns, spending, and targeting.

New iOS Tracking Privacy Changes

Before we get into how iOS tracking privacy changes impact ads, it’s important to understand Apple’s new policies and restrictions on app developers.

Apple’s iOS privacy changes (AppTrackingTransparency or ATT) might seem like a new idea, but the company has always wanted to protect user data and restrict tracking.

At the 2010 D8 Conference, Steve Jobs talked about privacy and how apps attempt to harvest data.

“We have rejected a lot of apps that want to take a lot of your personal data and suck it up into the cloud… We worry about stuff like this.” – Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs went on to say, “Privacy means people know what they are signing up for in plain English, and repeatedly… some people want to share more data than other people do.”

More than a decade later, Apple followed through on its promise to give users more control with iOS 14. The most significant privacy changes for apps and advertisers came with iOS 14.5, including changes to the Apple App store.

Apple App Store Changes

ATT begins in the Apple App Store before users download a new application. Under App Privacy, users can see:

  • Data Used to Track You

  • Data Linked to You

This transparency lets users see precisely what data the app will collect if they allow tracking permissions

Additionally, the developer’s privacy policy must inform users about their tracking practices, what data they collect, how it’s used, and whether they share your information with third parties.

Permission to Track

Informing Apple users is just the first step. Developers must still request permission to collect and use this data. When someone opens the app for the first time, a popup appears with the option to allow or decline tracking.

If someone does allow tracking, they can always opt out via the settings menu on their Apple device.

iOS 14 Ad Tracking

So, how do these changes impact ad tracking, and what does it mean for iOS developers, marketers, and advertisers?

What Does Ad Tracking Do?

Firstly, it’s essential to understand what ad tracking does so you know what Apple is taking away.

Websites and apps use cookies and IDFAs (Identifiers for advertisers) to track user browsing habits. If someone syncs their devices via an Apple ID or Google Account, these apps and websites can track all synced devices to create a comprehensive, detailed ad profile linked to their personal IDFA.

That’s why you can use Google to search for something on your Mac Book, and an ad will appear in your Instagram feed on your iPhone later. Apps also share this IDFA data with advertisers like Facebook, Google, etc., who create detailed personas businesses can target for ad campaigns.

Why Ad Tracking Matters

The more data points a profile has, the more granular an advertiser can get with targeting. This granularity increases return on ad spend (ROAS), reduces customer acquisition costs, and ultimately makes every sale or lead more profitable.

In short, ad tracking puts your offer in front of someone most likely to convert. Without this tracking, you must cast a wider net, increasing your ad cost per acquisition (CPA) and overall budget.

How Apple Tracking Permissions Impact Ads

Apple’s iOS 14.5 ad tracking permissions mean developers can no longer collect user data by default. First, they must be transparent by informing users in the App Store, and second, ask permission to collect this data.

Without tracking and location data, advertisers have fewer people in a target group. For example, say you want to deliver ads to 18-24-year-old males in Sydney interested in sneakers. iPhone users who decline to share tracking and location data wouldn’t appear in this target demographic.

According to app analytics platform Flurry, only around 1% of iPhone users using iOS 14.5 or higher have authorized tracking—meaning advertisers can write off collecting data to target iOS users accurately.

While advertisers can still deliver ads to iOS users, they can’t put them into highly targeted groups. Instead of targeting 18-24-year-old males in Sydney, ads might go to all iPhone users in Sydney or maybe New South Wales, ultimately making your ads less relevant and more expensive to achieve results comparable to pre-iOS 14.5.

iOS Tracking Facebook

iOS 14.5 changes will have little impact on Google Ads because the company primarily uses Google accounts and browsing data for targeted ad campaigns. But, for Facebook and Instagram ads, Apple’s iOS privacy changes throw a spanner in the works.

Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, and other Meta apps are infamous for invasive data harvesting. Additionally, Facebook uses other apps to collect personal information. So, even if you have none of Meta’s apps installed, the company can still collect data about your device, location, etc.

With Apple’s iOS 14.5 update, if users choose not to share this data, Meta cannot access it—even via third parties.

What Does This Mean for Facebook Ads?

Ever visited an eCommerce store browsing for shoes and returned to Facebook or Instagram to be greeted by ads for those shoes from the same or multiple retailers?

If you’re an iPhone user who blocks app tracking, you’ll experience this sort of “coincidence” less frequently. Instead, your Instagram or Facebook feed will deliver less targeted ads. You might also see fewer locally-relevant ads, especially if you travel outside your home city.

Apple also restricts “conversion event tracking,” which includes purchases, leads, add to cart, checkouts, searches, and content views, to name a few. Advertisers can only track eight of these events per campaign, whereas before, Facebook would track everything.

This change means advertisers must prioritize metrics and events before setting up Facebook ad campaigns.

How Do iOS Ad Tracking Changes Impact Your Strategy?

Firstly, these iOS changes only impact Apple users. According to a 2020 Statcounter report, iOS has a 27% global market share vs. Android’s 71%. So, advertisers still have a massive global audience for highly targeted campaigns.

However, don’t celebrate too early if your customers are US-based! According to Statcounter, iOS enjoys a 57% market share in the United States. Apple is also the preferred choice in Japan (64%) and most English-speaking countries.

Luckily, advertisers still have options. For example, localized campaigns can allocate bigger budgets to Google ads, which show up in research results, Google maps, YouTube, free Gmail accounts, and other Google products.

While you can still deliver iPhone users who block tracking, you won’t enjoy the same return on ad spend you did previously.

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