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A marketers guide to Apple’s privacy update (IDFA changes)

As the privacy freight train gains momentum, publishers and marketers are grappling with a series of significant industry changes. Whilst many publishers and brands are still trying to work out how to navigate the phase out of third party cookies, they are now faced with a new very significant announcement – this time from Apple. Just a few short days ago, on Data Privacy Day, Apple announced to the market its IDFA update – which has left publishers, particularly Facebook reeling.

So what is IDFA and what implications does it have? We’ve set out to demystify the jargon and answer some of the most commonly asked questions about the topic, to help our community understand what these changes mean.

So what is IDFA?

IDFA is simply an Identifier for Advertisers (IDFA) which is randomly assigned by Apple to a user's device. The IDFA is used for tracking and identifying a user (without revealing personal information) and it enables app owners to track individual user data within apps, including actions taken within the app, device info, acquisition insights, etc. In addition it aids advertisers to deliver targeted advertising.

So what is the latest update and why does it matter?

Right now, iOS users (iOS is the Apple Operating System) can opt-out of being tracked, but most users aren’t aware this is even possible – with the option buried within the settings.

The update will require an explicit opt-in in order for the user to be tracked. How might you say? Users will be presented with a prompt with options to "Allow Tracking" or "Ask App not to Track" when opening apps that wish to track their activity. This will give users of iPhone, iPad and Apple TV the power to decide whether or not an app can access their data across sites and other applications.

Why is Apple making this change?

In response to the changes in privacy regulation around the globe, we are seeing a number of brands beginning to take a leadership position on privacy. Apple has embedded privacy as a core part of its design philosophy stating the following on their site;

Privacy is a fundamental human right. At Apple, its also one of our core values. Your devices are important to so many parts of your life. What you share from those experiences, and who you share it with, should be up to you. We design Apple products to protect your privacy and give you control over your information. It's not always easy but it is the kind of innovation we believe in.

They could of course do many things to protect users privacy but why this change specifically? Apple recently published a report named “A Day in the Life of Your Data”. In the report it outlined that on average, apps include six “trackers” from other companies, which have the sole purpose of collecting and tracking people and their personal information. Data collected by these trackers is pieced together, shared, aggregated, and monetized, fuelling an industry valued at $227 billion per year. And all the while most consumers are none the wiser over what is being captured and tracked.

Whilst you can’t argue that this will provide consumers with much needed control when it comes to their personal data, it does beg the question as to whether Apple is using privacy as a mechanism to enhance market dominance over key rivals.

When is the update expected?

The update is expected to go out in the spring 2021 in the US and autumn for those in Australia.

Our brand has an app in the app store – what do we do next?

If you have an iOS app it’s important to start engaging with your app developers now. The first step is to ask them how your app currently uses IDFA and what effect its absence will have. You will also need to start working through how your consent mechanism will work and how it can be optimized to ensure more users opt in. Non compliance could see your app being kicked out of the app store – so it's best to be on the front foot.

How will this impact our digital advertising activities?

Retargeting, exclusion targeting, segmentation, lookalike audiences and much more in the mobile ad ecosystem currently rely on using the IDFA. As such these changes will have big knock-on effects to your ability to target and personalise activity based on a users intent, interests and behaviours. As the IDFA will pass a "0" back for those who don’t want to be tracked – it will also create a host of challenges to track and effectively measure app based advertising.

If you are running digital activity on Facebook and other social media platforms then the changes are significant. Facebook, along with Snapchat, stand to suffer the most from the IDFA update, with many users expected to opt-out of their data tracking due to the amount of insights that both companies take in.

In fact, statistics suggest up to 96% of Facebook users access the platform via an app – which demonstrates how far reaching this change could be for the social juggernaut whose targeting and personalisation capabilities are powered by the vast amounts of data collected via app interactions.

What portion of users are expected to opt-out?

At this stage that is completely unknown – we will have to wait and see how this one plays out in the coming months.

Got a topic you want to hear more about? Drop us a line at – we’d love to hear from you.


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