iOS 14, The IDFA and The Future of Mobile Attribution

mobile attribution

The mobile ecosystem has been in upheaval since the announcement of iOS 14 at WWDC 2020. Along with a range of UI updates, the new requirement for IDFA opt-in by Apple iPhone and iPad device users took center stage. Many app owners are anticipating the knock-on effect this could have on mobile attribution and paid advertising efforts. What does the industry need to do to pivot to mitigate the potential disruption to mobile attribution? In this post, we’ll cover the iOS 14 privacy updates you need to know about, coupled with insights from our trusted partner and one of the industry leaders in mobile measurement and fraud prevention, Adjust, to identify what future of mobile attribution could look like.

iOS 14: the updates you need to know about

iOS 14 is likely to roll out for Apple consumers in September 2020 and we were offered a sneak peek at this year’s WWDC. The update was positioned as a rethinking of Apple’s iconic elements for an elevated experience. The announcement included a refreshed UI and new formats for app discovery and user acquisition. This included the introduction of the App Library, Widgets and App Clips (you can see the full update from our blog here). Importantly, Apple highlighted their privacy-centric updates which would be bundled with the new operating system: explicit IDFA opt-in for all apps.

In other terms, app owners will need to ask users permission before they can use the identifier for tracking. As a self-professed privacy-conscious business, this had been a highly-anticipated move on Apple’s part.

What is the IDFA?

The IDFA is key for mobile attribution. Mobile advertising, such as paying for app install campaigns across social channels (like Instagram, Snap or Facebook) DSPs, or the app stores (Apple Search Ads and Google App Campaigns), are vital to growing your user base. If you’re a seasoned app marketer, then mobile attribution is your most powerful tool in identifying your best-performing channels, which will inform you of where to invest your future paid user acquisition budgets. It equips you with the necessary insight to evaluate the effectiveness of your advertising campaigns, budgets and audience targeting.

The Identifier for Advertisers (IDFA) is a key identifier for mobile and app owners, assigned to devices at random by Apple to allow app owners to track their paid campaigns and deliver personalised advertising. The IDFA cloaks the user’s personal information, a privacy measure that still allows for integral data to be extracted on users such as the channel they have been acquired from or certain user behaviours tracked via in-app events (see more on the IDFA from the Adjust glossary). Users can turn off tracking through their settings via ‘limited ad tracking’ but this function is deep within the settings of the device and often goes amiss. iOS 14 will change all that. 

The collection of user-identifying data is contentious, for good reason, and the turn against Mobile Ad IDs is not a new one. Apple’s legacy unique device identifier, UDID, was replaced by the IDFA in 2012 to harness persistent tracking, with similar steps taken by Google in 2013 who released an advertising ID for Android to replace its unique Android ID (more here). Since then, Apple has been poised to crack down on abuse for some time, although iOS 14 is perhaps the most concrete step, ensuring the user can reclaim control of their data, with transparency on how they are being tracked and what is being tracked. 

With iOS 14, app owners will need to:

  • Gain app-specific permission from users in order to use the IDFA for tracking
  • Ensure your App Store product will feature a tailored breakdown of your self-reported privacy practices
  • Provide a link to your privacy policy on your App Store page

Without being granted permission to track users, attributing your advertising efforts will become incredibly difficult. It seems that Apple has taken the first steps to give users more power to harness their privacy. Whilst this may seem disruptive, it also offers an opportunity for app owners to build trust and ensure transparency in exchange for users handing over their data. However, we anticipate that the new permission request will hugely impact mobile attribution efforts, with many users most likely to opt-out.

iOS 14 and the impact on mobile attribution

Paul H. Müller, co-founder and CTO at Adjust, offered his expertise and insights into the future of mobile attribution in light of the new IDFA opt-in:

“The good news is that we believe there are options to make attribution and measurement possible on iOS 14 – but it will require coordination and collaboration from the industry as a whole to map out the best way forward.

The consequences of Apple’s suggested changes, called the AppTrackingTransparency framework, are best understood when broken down by supply and demand side.

On the supply side, it will be up to the ad publishers to clearly communicate to users the value of sharing their IDFA and serving them targeted ads. Apple hasn’t prescribed any limitations on how to communicate this value exchange with users, which opens up new opportunities. App publishers could, for example, offer users the choice between a free, ad-supported version, and a paid, ad-free version of their app.

Social media apps could simply make it part of their terms and conditions that a user would allow them to show ads and share the IDFA in order to fully use the app.

On the demand-side, the biggest challenge is that you would need the IDFA for every device that installs an advertiser’s app, as soon as the app opens. But Apple has outlined exemptions for this framework that might provide the ability for attribution as it exists today. We believe that focusing on this framework and creating tools within these rules is the best way forward.

Below is the one crucial exception in its proposed framework: 

This gives MMPs an opportunity to attribute an install or re-engagement as long as they do not send data off the device that could possibly identify the users. At Adjust, we’ve come up with a potential solution following these guidelines that would make attribution iOS 14 compatible, coined the “Attribution Hash”. You can find more details about how the solution would work on the Adjust blog. 

We’re currently working with our clients, partners and other MMPs to make the solution an industry standard, and will be presenting it to Apple in the coming days. While there are definite challenges ahead, these changes are also an opportunity to maximize user privacy and create a sustainable future for app developers, advertisers and end users.” 

To round-up

iOS 14 has been considered the first step towards depreciating the IDFA. Whilst the IDFA is still around, many may not feel prepared to optimise and build relationships to gain permission for tracking users. At Yodel Mobile, we’re staunch advocates for the consumer’s right to privacy and ability to control personal data, which is regularly considered as part of our client strategies. As the sector adapts to new regulations, it is clear that our technology partners are aligned in this thinking and it is integral for the mobile industry to come together to provide innovative solutions.

This is an opportunity for the industry, rather than a loss. Transparency will be the key takeaway, and the onus is on advertisers to educate consumers on how ID-level data can be used in their best interests. Mobile advertising needs to adapt, regardless of whether the IDFA is eventually eliminated – responding to consumer concern and building out contextual advertising approaches should be considered a positive shift for the mobile industry.

Make sure to sign up to our newsletter to get notified when we release a new blog post. Want to find out more about optimising your app and keeping up with the latest OS capabilities? Make sure to subscribe to our Mastering Mobile Marketing video series. You can also get in touch by visiting the Contact Us page. Follow us on LinkedIn, chat with us on Twitter @yodelmobile, and join our #AppMarketingUK LinkedIn group.

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