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Apple iOS14 - User Privacy Update and Partners Series

24 March 2021 6 min read PoV
As we await Apple's full iOS14 rollout, including their App Tracking Transparency framework and new privacy features, what does this mean for advertisers?


Apple's latest update of its operating system to iOS14 aims to improve customer security and privacy, though directly impacts the way marketers navigate the digital ecosystem. There are many new features included in this update, but here we will focus on the specific changes that will impact advertising, data sharing, and advertising activity tracking

This article covers the following aspects:

  • Tracking pre iOS 14
  • What do the iOS 14 changes mean?
  • What' about web activity?
  • Implications of this rollout

With this privacy update, the situation has constantly been evolving. It not only impacts advertising activities on iOS & Android apps but is expected to impact Facebook, Google and the likes.

In the coming few days, we will be providing a series of updates per platform as any guidance is accurate at the time of writing and is likely to be on-going instructions and changes.

Now let's dive in deeper to understand what this rollout is all about: 

A recap before the iOS 14 rollout

A recap before the iOS 14 rollout

It is worth reiterating how mobile advertising activity was tracked on Apple devices before this announcement. Mobile ads could be delivered on a device either within an app or through the browser/m-web. Both methods use different techniques to track and target activity.

The app-based activity uses a unique, randomised ID that is applied to the device called IDFA (Identifier for Advertisers). IDFA has been the foundation for advertisers and ad-tech to attribute a click, event/action or download to a device and user.

The browser/m-web activity uses similar methods on the desktop, with reliance on the firing of tags and cookie-based tracking.

When a deterministic ID (an ID known to be true and accurate) such as IDFA or a cookie ID cannot be accessed, a probabilistic ID will then be formed, with the most common method being "Fingerprinting".

Fingerprinting uses publicly available signals from the user, such as IP address, timestamp, device brand, device model, screen resolution, language etc to then make a probabilistic ID, available to attribute to advertising activity. 

What do the iOS14 changes mean?

What do the iOS14 changes mean?

Apple is making several changes throughout iOS14, impacting how advertising tracks and will operate on their devices. All apps purchased through the App Store will be required to prompt the user to either allow or decline collection and sharing of certain data points, aligning to their AppTrackingTransparency (ATT) framework.

ATT covers the following, but is not limited to:

  • Displaying targeted advertisements in your app based on user data collected from apps and websites owned by other companies.
  • Sharing device location data or email lists with a data broker.
  • Sharing a list of emails, advertising IDs, or other IDs with a third-party.
  • Placing a third-party SDK in your app that combines user data from your app with user data from other developers' apps to target advertising or measure advertising efficiency, even if you don't use the SDK for these purposes. For example, using an analytics SDK repurposes the data it collects from your app to enable targeted advertising through other developers' apps.

If the user does not agree to the app's data collection, the IDFA will not be available. This will directly impact apps that rely on this to target, track, and attribute activity.

If the user agrees to share the data, in that case, the IDFA is accessible for apps under the ATT framework and App Store Review Guidelines, which act as the policies governing data privacy. 

What about web activity?

The privacy changes and restrictions around IDFA only impact in-app activity, but the impact of Safari’s ITP (intelligent tracking prevention) protocol, which restricts how third-party tags and cookies are used across web activity, echoes the shift to increasing privacy measures – subsequently restricting cross-site tracking and the length of time a cookie can remain in the context as a 3rd party.

To ensure that activity can still be tracked in a privacy safe method, Apple has released their own protocol, “Private Click Management” (PCM)". 

PCM is built into the browser itself and runs on the device, removing advertisers and 3rd parties from seeing which ads are clicked on, and which events are triggered. 

PCM is built on the following principles:
  • A user should not be tracked for the purpose of ad click measurement.
  • Only sites a user visits should be involved in measuring ad clicks, not third parties.
  • The browser should act on behalf of users and do its best to preserve their privacy.
  • The browser vendor should not learn about which ads users click or what they buy.

It is also worth noting that they reduced the number of characteristics shared by a browser and the users' configuration such as location and plug-ins used, in the same version of Safari release. These characteristics have previously been used to drive "Fingerprint" technologies to help identify individual users.


What if the user does not allow data sharing, how can we track activity?
In 2018, Apple included a framework, called SKAdNetwork, that allowed activity within an app to be tracked using the IDFA, and in a method that still protects user privacy.

To use this framework, advertising networks must first register with Apple, where a unique ID is applied back to the app.

When a user performs a trackable action, such as downloading an app or an event within the app, this information is first passed onto Apple via API. The information passed back is basic, aggregated and anonymised data, and is sent on a time delay of upto 48 hours.

There are also further limitations applied, such as a cap of 100 campaign IDs per ad network, no view-through attribution, no information on impressions, creative, remarketing, lookback windows, user lifetime value or ROI.

Use of fingerprinting as a method of tracking activity will be largely impacted due to the randomised time the data is sent over at, meaning no precise timestamp can be extracted and matched to a user action.

How will these changes impact advertising activity?

The changes are specifically designed to protect a user's privacy and the sharing of data back to advertisers and 3rd parties.

The changes will dramatically affect how advertising technologies function in both in-app and m-web environments. Apps and publishers will all be impacted by a varied amount, depending on how apps utilise the IDFA and user's data.

Some of the areas impacted are:
  • Location tracking
  • Cross site and environment (App to m-web) tracking
  • Event tracking and attribution
  • View-through & impression tracking
  • Passing of additional variables, such as revenue or product ID
  • Frequency control
  • Audience targeting & analysis
  • Structure of accounts & campaigns within some platforms
  • Overall reporting of performance

What are the specific impacts on other platforms, and how can we mitigate them?

As part of this series, we will be doing a deep dive on the following platforms.
Stay tuned!

If you have questions about preparing for iOS 14, feel free to reach out to us!

Is your app ready for the iOS 14 roll out?

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