What does the new iOS 14 update mean for advertising?

10 Minute Read | Inbound Marketing

It’s New Years Eve, 1999, people are in the streets ready to bring in the new millennium and celebrate, police have secured emergency bunkers and some families have bought a lifetime supply of Spam.  Y2k, or the millennium bug, had taken over the world’s consciousness and brought some into a frenzy. With the hindsight of 2021 many have looked back at the Y2K ordeal as a joke, a group of people who took snippets of media and ran wild with conspiracy theories. But what a lot of people haven’t realised is that Y2k was a real threat, that was circumvented through hours of tireless coding and system upgrades.

“The bug at the center of the Year 2000 mess is fairly simple. In what’s proving to be a ludicrously shortsighted shortcut, many system programmers set aside only two digits to denote the year in dates, as in 06/15/98 rather than 06/15/1998. Trouble is, when the computer’s clock strikes 2000, the math can get screwy. Date-based equations like 98 – 97 = 1 become 00 – 97 = -97. That can prompt some computers to do the wrong thing and stop others from doing anything at all.” – Time Magazine, 1998



We know you’re here for information on the iOS 14 updates and are probably wondering what Y2K has to do with Apple’s changes to the IDFA. There is a point. Aside from the writer’s never ending goal to have the world understand that Y2K was real and we should thank the IT field from 1998-2000, it’s a staunch reminder that our technology and our code is fallible, and should be scrutinised.


“Twenty years later, we are able to look at Y2K with derision, not because Y2K was a hoax, but because concerned people took the threat seriously and did something about it — a lesson for addressing myriad problems today.”The Times, Lily Rothman


In September 2020 Apple announced that with the release of the new iOS 14 update they would be changing the way the Identifier for Advertisers (IDFA) that is in every iOS device gets accessed. Apple’s App Tracking Transparency (ATT) policy will require developers to ask for permission when they use certain information from other companies’ apps and websites for advertising purposes. Even if they already have user consent, they will be required again to ask for permission when using certain information for advertising purposes.

This is a spanner in the works when it comes to online advertising, especially for Facebook, but as a user many are viewing these changes to how users’ privacy is handled as win.

Apple’s CEO, Tim Cook, took to the stage at a recent convention in Brussels and stated:

“Technology does not need vast troves of personal data stitched together across dozens of websites and apps in order to succeed. Advertising existed and thrived for decades without it, and we’re here today because the path of least resistance is rarely the path of wisdom.”



What is the IDFA and what has changed?


Apple’s identifiers for advertisers (or IDFA) are identifiers attached to tech devices such as iPhones or Macbooks that advertisers can use to identify iOS, iPadOS, and tvOS users across apps. There has always been the option to opt-out of having these identifiers tracked, but that setting was hard to find, and only about 30% of American iPhone owners turned it off. In the new iOS 14 update, users will be prompted to opt in or out of the IDFA at app level (like in the Iconic App below) – which means a lot more people will make use of the option.

Currently, about 70% of IOS users share their IDFA with app publishers, after this change it’s estimated that this number will drop to 10% to 15%

Apple iOS 14 update example

Facebook’s response to the Apple IDFA changes


Facebook’s CEO, Mark Zuckerberg stated that the changes to these privacy policies will “hurt the growth of millions of businesses around the world” and they haven’t shied away from confrontation. The company that is fresh from upsetting the big media platforms and government in Australia (blocking news outlets in protest of the News Media Bargaining Code – or did you miss this? Is Google next?) has a few things to say to Apple.

Facebook took out a full-page ad in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post with the below:

Facebook claims that it will impact businesses ability to market themselves, which in turn will see the smaller businesses suffer. Apple obviously disagrees, and believe it’s important to push for more privacy for users of their operating systems. The IDFA changes are just the most recent of a slew of privacy focussed updates for Apple’s mobile and tablet operating systems. Let’s go over a few of them now.


What’s happened and what’s happening in iOS 14


1. More Privacy Information on the App Store

Starting 14th December 2020, the App Store launched an “App Privacy” section that features labels and icons that inform a user how an app uses data. It is displayed much like a nutrition label on the back of a muesli bar, and groups permissions under the headings “Data Used to Track You”, “Data Linked to You”, and “Data not Linked to You”. This gives users a quick overview of how apps use the information they give the app developers.

2. Approximate location 

Users are able to select “Approximate” location instead of “Precise” location for the when granting location permissions to apps. Many apps don’t require precision for their location services, so you can declare a more general region for applications. This will extend your battery life a little, as the approximate location doesn’t need to work your phone hardware as much. Reducing the amount of data you give away helps keep you that little bit more private online.

3. Mic and Camera use indicator

This is a big one for those who are convinced Facebook is hearing their every word! iOS 14 shows an icon in your status bar whenever an app is using the mic or camera. Orange for the microphone, green for the camera. We can finally get to the bottom of those suspiciously targeted ads…

4. App tracking controls and transparency

“Allow Apps to Request to Track” is the Privacy setting that is causing all the fuss. It already exists in iOS 14, but the difference with the coming changes are that users will need to explicitly “opt in” rather than “opt out”. This little change is the one that advertisers are expecting will cause a huge fall in the amount of people that are allowing tracking, as it will be brought to their attention rather than be hidden away in a mysterious system setting… 

5. Limited Photos library access

Currently when we grant apps permission to see our image library they have full access, in the latest update there will be the option to share only select items such as specific photos or folders which will be a huge win for anyone with reservations over sharing their library in its entirety. 

6. Upgrade to sign in with Apple

“Sign in with Apple” is the tech giant’s way of allowing users to set up an account with the Apple ID which uses their authority to verify your identification. Also, it allows you to hide your real email from sites and apps, with Apple supplying you a random and unique email address that forwards to your real one. Apple’s sign in also won’t track or profile you, and is being required to be offered as an alternative to signing in with Google or Facebook accounts, which are perhaps a little more gung-ho with your privacy. 


How will the changes impact me as an advertiser? 


The changes being made to the IDFA are going to impact all advertisers, not just those who advertise on iOS14. Broadly there are two main issues that advertisers must keep an eye on. 
Ad Retargeting 

Any retargeting to users that relied on the identifiers for advertisers will no longer work for users that have opted out of sharing their IDFA. This will most likely result in a  drop in audiences that are targetable. It’s not all doom – with Google and Facebook having other variables they can use to identify devices (email, phone number) – but this isn’t the case across all platforms. 

Ad Measurement 

Mobile Measurement Partners (MMPs) built its measurement and fraud capabilities around the IDFA identifier. While Apple has announced a replacement API (SKAdNetwork) that will allow for conversion data to be passed back at the campaign level, we’re still going to see a reduction in the fidelity of data that MPPs have to identify fraud and performance across mobile campaigns. 

If you’re a user of Google’s ‘last click’ attribution model you may need a rapid pivot in your measurement strategy. Due to more users opting out of tracking, the Google Ads ‘last click’ attribution model may be the most reputable as we can no longer identify where each user comes from or their online journey.


Where to from here?


The changes coming through are complex, but don’t despair, we have you covered. Below is a checklist to consider before moving forward in the post iOS14 digital world. 

First things first, us marketers need to consider:

  • Websites
  • Apps/SDK
  • CRM
  • Pixels
  • Reporting
  • Measurement

Facebook advertisers in particular need to consider and rethink:

  • Campaign structure
  • Best practices – it will be an adjustment period to establish new best practices.
  • ROAs calculation
  • Measurement


For advertisers using web business tools


Facebook will be adopting Apple’s prompt on Facebook and Instagram. But they will include their own ‘pre-prompt’ to explain the consequences of opting out.

Apple has created a new protocol for web attribution: Private Click Measurement (PCM)

  • PCM restricts data that can be shared across businesses and platforms.
  • PCM does not support app-to-web measurement and cross-domain measurement.
    • E.g. if you click through an Instagram link to buy, this won’t count as a conversion via PCM.
    • E.g. if it switches locations


The Aggregated Event Measurement


Facebook are introducing the Aggregated Event Measurement (AEM) to address the gaps.

  • If people opt-out at the prompt, Facebook will use AEM as a measurement tool.
  • Limits transmission of user data but still supports critical advertiser use-cases.
  • E.g. it will support app-web attribution
  • Enables flexibility for other platform propositions.
  • Note: AEM will not solve all of the impacts of Apple’s protocol – advertisers will still lose functionality with these changes and should expect initial performance decline. Expect restricted, aggregated and delayed data.

The world changes so rapidly it’s important as digital marketers keep their fingers on the pulse when it comes to changes in trends. In 1999 people furiously worked to get ahead of Y2K, and now we look down the barrel of 2038* , digital is all about being agile. 

*The Year 2038 problem is another computer time problem – the quick version is that computer time will reset on the 19th of January, 2038 at 3:14:07 and it will be January 1st 1970 again. Why? Because 32-bit computers can’t hold any more numbers than that. Why? Maybe click the link above 🙂

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