How the Delay to Apple’s IDFA Opt-In Changes Affects Marketers

Leo Giel | September 9, 2020
CRO

A collective sigh of relief could be heard from the mobile industry last week when Apple announced that it will delay the rollout of user opt-in permissions to IDFA tracking until 2021. 

To review, Apple announced at its annual WWDC conference in June that it would be restricting the use of the IDFA with the release of iOS14 in September. The IDFA has been the mobile industry’s device identifier for advertisers on iOS. Historically, IDFAs have been one of the most precise ways to track a mobile advertising campaign using user-level data. This tracking occurs by assigning a unique identifier to a single device. 

Apple announced that starting with iOS 14, apps would need to receive opt-in from users to use the IDFA. This will grant explicit permission to apps tracking users across their products under Apple’s AppTrackingTransparency (ATT) framework. 

Since the announcement, there has been much narrative about the perceived death of the IDFA. You can check out our IDFA myth busting article where we tackle some of these opinions and separate fact vs. fiction here.

Apple Bowing to Industry Pressure

Since Apple’s announcement, other players have shared the effect the changes would have on their businesses. Perhaps most outspoken has been Facebook. The social media giant warned investors on its July earnings call that the deprecation of the IDFA could be a “challenging headwind”

Facebook’s Audience Network (FAN) has long depended on the IDFA to meaningfully target and measure attribution on its advertising network. In August, Facebook announced on its blog that it would not collect the IDFA on its own apps. This move would essentially render FAN ineffective once Apple rolled out its ATT framework. Facebook acknowledged that the change could lead to a more than 50% drop in its Audience Network advertising business. 

While the effect on Facebook might not persuade much compassion, it’s worth noting that hundreds of thousands of small app developers also rely on the IDFA to monetize their apps. Apple’s delay seems to acknowledge the upheaval their changes will cause to the livelihoods of thousands of smaller app developers.

It’s also important to note that while a decrease in Facebook’s advertising business might not, at first, matter to the day-to-day consumer, the reason platforms like Facebook and Google are free is because of advertising. The loss of the IDFA could put at risk the free versions of Snapchat, TikTok, Gmail, and literally thousands of other services that we depend on daily for productivity, socializing, and entertainment.

Wait, What About Google?

Google has been far less public about its actions in response to Apple’s announcement. Unlike Facebook, which publicized the effect the ATT would have on its business, the only move that Google has made is to quietly update its AdMob Help Center with information on the steps developers need to take before iOS 14 rolls out. Unlike Facebook, Google will continue collecting the IDFA from users who choose to opt-in.

Of course, Google’s approach to iOS 14 is different from Facebook’s. This is largely because Google has its own operating system (and Facebook doesn’t). It also makes sense that Google would quietly go with the flow with the changes, and wait it out as more ad spend inevitably flows into the Android ecosystem

That said, it’s not as if the loss of the IDFA won’t affect Google. Google uses the IDFA to attribute app installs and tie app events to retargeting media across products that run on iOS such as Google, Gmail, etc. Mobile ad IDs, both IDFA and GAID, are necessary to measure view-through conversions, especially on products like YouTube. Without a proper feedback loop, measuring the performance of campaigns and undertaking actions like frequency capping, will be more difficult.

And, then, of course, there’s a big question mark hanging over Google’s advertising ID, GAID. Some believe Apple’s actions will push Google to also make its GAID opt-in. Then again, there’s an argument to be made that since Google will continue collecting the IDFA under Apple’s opt-in system, it won’t make any changes to its GAID framework. 

Ok, So I Don’t Need to Eulogize the IDFA until 2021, Now What?

In a post on its developer blog, Apple released the following statement about the IDFA opt-in delay:

“We are committed to ensuring users can choose whether or not they allow an app to track them. To give developers time to make necessary changes, apps will be required to obtain permission to track users starting early next year. More information, including an update to the App Store Review Guidelines, will follow this fall.”

It’s important to note that the only part of iOS 14 currently delayed is the IDFA opt-in under the ATT framework. The rest of Apple’s new mobile OS will release as scheduled sometime this month. This includes Apple’s SKAdNetwork (SKAd) which will provide attribution on ads displayed on iOS devices for registered publishers. 

With the IDFA privacy changes delayed, marketers will still be able to retrieve the IDFA without asking for permission. This means marketers will still be able to track when an install occurred and what device it’s from. 

A Note About Retargeting

The delay of IDFA privacy changes will also enable retargeting as it stands until 2021. In retargeting, platforms collect user-level data and build very specific segments of users out of it. This segmentation triggers different events (in particular, purchases) using shared characteristics. It also finds users that fit similar profiles and targets them with ads. Throughout this process, advertising is optimized because ad creative variants are tested at the level of the sub-groups. This means each user segment sees the ad creative to which it is most likely to respond.

The delay in IDFA opt-in changes gives marketers time to work on filling the gaps in the ATT and SKAdNetwork frameworks which are missing support for retargeting in their attribution models.

The delay also gives marketers some time to compare measurement in the old model — i.e. granular, user-level marketing measurement using the IDFA — and the new model. The new model in this case being marketing measurement via Apple’s SKAdNetwork model.

Finally, marketers will get a 6-month reprieve to collect insights in Q4 which is typically the most active shopping time of the year. Leveraging data from the holiday season, including Black Friday and Cyber Monday, will better prepare marketers for the full implementation of iOS14 in 2021.

Takeaways

Apple announced last week that it would delay the rollout of its user opt-in permissions to IDFA tracking until 2021. 

  • This move signals an acknowledgement of the tremendous effect the IDFA change will have on app developers. 
  • The change gives marketers a grace period to compare campaign measurement in the old IDFA system with Apple’s SKAdNetwork model. The delay also gives marketers time to fill in the gaps on supporting retargeting within these frameworks.
  • Q4 will be a good time to collect insights under Apple’s new guidelines to better prepare for iOS14.