While Apple are now running iOS 15 on their devices, it has carried over a significant update from iOS 14.5 that improved users’ privacy (or at least their control over it), which has proven popular with users but has come at a cost to advertisers and businesses.
The most significant aspect of the Apple iOS 14 update for advertisers is the App Tracking Transparency Framework or the setting that allows users to opt-out of in-app data collection across apps such as Facebook and Instagram. This is achieved by blocking the IDFA (Identifier for Advertisers).
This option appears as a popup when users open an installed app or download a new app, asking for the user’s permission to track their activity across other apps and websites.
There were many projections as to how many users would choose to opt-out of data collection and tracking across their apps, ranging from as little as 20% to up to 75%, but recent data suggests as many as 96% of users are choosing to not have their data tracked. This makes quite the resounding statement that the vast majority of Apple device users are in favour of having more control of their privacy.
Facebook, who have their own history of privacy issues, made it clear they opposed Apple’s move but initially framed their objection as a defence of small businesses. Their full-page ad in the Wall Street Journal was titled ‘Apple vs. the free internet’ and suggested already struggling small businesses would have difficulty “effectively reach[ing] the people most interested in their products and services”, which would curb their growth.
It’s unlikely that Facebook’s comments are coming from a place of altruism, but fear of their own ad revenue suffering as marketers consider taking their business elsewhere. Apple even responded to Facebook’s objections by stating that App Tracking Transparency “does not require Facebook to change its approach to tracking users and creating targeted advertising, it simply requires they give users a choice”.
While this may technically be true, with most users opting for the choice of turning off their data tracking, Facebook will have no choice but to rethink their approach to how they advertise to their users. By extension, small businesses that rely heavily on Facebook advertising will be affected.
While there isn’t much of a reasonable argument against users being in charge of their privacy, this move makes it more difficult for advertisers to use the algorithms of apps like Facebook to reach their audience, as the data in question is the data used to personalise ads for users.
Facebook will become a less powerful tool for advertising unless they make significant changes that account for the App Tracking Transparency Framework, such as new methods of targeting and opening up its algorithms and promoting increased organic visibility for smaller pages.
However, it is worth remembering these changes only affect those visiting Facebook on Apple devices running a recent OS. In theory, users visiting Facebook via any other method should experience ads in the same way they did previously.
Facebook have written a guide for businesses on how to move forward with their own advertising services, which is worth following if this is a channel you use for paid advertising.
If promotional channels affected by the iOS 14 update, such as Facebook and Instagram, become significantly less lucrative for businesses, then they may consider focusing more on other paid promotional channels such as Google Ads or put more time into SEO, email marketing, or organic social media engagement.
Businesses and marketers may also find it useful to research their target audience and their behaviours rather than relying solely on algorithms, especially as it’s likely we will see more privacy-orientated updates by big companies in the future. This researched data will serve businesses well across all marketing activities.
It’s important to note that the iOS 14 update doesn’t signal the ‘death’ of Facebook’s advertising services, rather that sole dependence on their data tracking algorithm will be a less effective strategy. Facebook’s retargeting and lookalike audience features can still be very effective tools when used with earned email lists from sign-ups rather than relying on app data tracking.
However, businesses may want to start assessing how they generate their leads as the next big privacy update could be just around the corner, and it might not just be Apple users it affects.