Apple’s SKAdNetwork, launching with the release of iOS 14 in September, is poised to become the way advertisers attribute mobile app installations on iOS devices.
But instead of giving marketers the user IDs of those who downloaded its app, the identity of the device it was downloaded on, and what creative led to that conversion, Apple will now share only whether an ad resulted in a download, plus a few other technical details, but no personally identifiable information.
The upcoming change in attribution—identifying a set of user actions that lead to a desired outcome—will make it harder for marketers to optimize their ad spend, determine which creative worked best and identify their customer acquisition costs and user lifetime value.
Hurdles for advertisers
By limiting the amount of data that ad networks and third parties can collect about users that download an app, SKAdNetwork’s objective is to help marketers to measure an ad campaign’s success while maintaining user privacy. But it poses significant hurdles for advertisers.
“If acquiring mobile users is an important part of your business and growth, you should be very concerned,” says Gadi Eliashiv, CEO at Singular, a mobile marketing intelligence company.
“As a CMO, if you are acquiring customers you need to know what your customer acquisition cost is and the expected lifetime value of your customer,” Eliashiv says. “Then you can bid appropriately on new customers and new users on mobile. Now, the parameters used to acquire new customers are going to change.”
“Companies want to track individuals and build profiles on them,” says Eliashiv. “Marketers call it measurement and consumers call it tracking. Apple’s goal is to stop this tracking and be a privacy-safe platform. They want to govern the use and proliferation of your personal information.”
And while advertisers can still get post-install data such as a completed purchase or user registration, it will now be limited to a single conversion event within a very short time frame of 24 hours. Apple did not return a request for comment.
SKAdNetwork will send aggregated app install details—which will provide only the number of people who downloaded an app as a result of an ad—to a brand’s mobile measurement partner (MMP) or ad network. If an app has low install volumes, however, Apple won’t report anything as it could potentially be traced back to the user, says Eliashiv.
Without the ability to target consumers by behavior, advertisers will likely have to rely on contextual targeting—say, pairing an advertisement for boats in an article or publication devoted to boating—as well as A/B testing of advertising.
The SKAdNetwork builds on Apple’s previous privacy efforts, which started nearly three years ago when the company effectively killed third-party cookies through its Intelligent Tracking Prevention (ITP) for the Safari browser. It recently upped the ante again after essentially opting consumers out from mobile tracking.
Google will eventually adopt a similar approach to its Android operating system, predicts Brian DeCicco, executive director of customer strategy at Mindshare.
When Apple eliminated third-party cookies with ITP in 2017, Firefox and Google followed suit a few years later. Apple’s move with SKAdNetwork is a step in the same direction, but for mobile.