Apple announced new privacy changes to its upcoming iOS 14 software that will significantly hinder how media buyers and brands target, measure and find consumers.
One change will make it harder for apps to track iOS users across different apps and websites. Another will make attribution—determining which tactics contribute to sales or conversions—harder for marketers.
The changes, announced Monday at Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference, apply to the company’s Identifier for Advertisers (IDFA), which assigns a unique number to a user's mobile device. Advertisers have access to the feature and use it in areas including ad targeting, building lookalike audiences, attribution and encouraging consumers to download apps.
IDFA is shared with app makers and advertisers by default, but that will change once iOS 14 rolls out this fall. Then, users must give explicit permission through a popup for app publishers to track them across different apps and websites, or to share that information with third parties.
“This is a tectonic shift in the industry,” says Gadi Eliashiv, CEO at Singular, a mobile marketing intelligence company. “Some business models will be completely disrupted, while others will have to be completely reinvented.”
Apple didn’t kill its Indentifier for Advertisers, but rendered it useless, Eliashiv says. “It’s unlikely many consumers will say ‘yes’ to tracking when asked and, even if they do, saying ‘yes’ on one app is not enough. You also need to say ‘yes’ on all the other apps you’re seeing ads on for IDFA to be useful for attribution, retargeting, look-alike audiences and many other mobile measurement requirements,” he says.
Apple’s changes tie into earlier privacy efforts it made with Intelligent Tracking Prevention for its Safari browser. However, the demise of IDFA might have a larger impact on the marketing industry than the end of third-party cookies, which apply only to desktop browsers. Apple’s identifiers, however, apply to the mobile arena—where marketers sent $87 billion, or 70 percent of all U.S. digital ad spend, in 2019.
Mark Wagman, managing director at MediaLink, says he’s heard from large clients who are grappling with privacy issues on multiple fronts. “What’s top-of-mind for a brand right now is they are reading this news about Apple and compounding it with Google’s depreciation of the third-party cookie and California’s Consumer Privacy Act, which begins enforcement July 1,” says Wagman.
Wagman suggests advertisers assess spending as they attempt to get a handle on consumer privacy. “So many businesses are built on complex data-driven flywheels, small changes along the way cause big headaches,” he says. “This summer is the time to pause and think about your data and partnership strategies. We have certainly overcomplicated the market.”