Apple announced in January 2021 that it will be rolling out its iOS14 App Tracking Transparency (ATT) privacy update, and it has many businesses scrambling.

For years, digital advertisers have been able to track conversions from app users and retarget them with additional ads even after they leave the app. Apple’s update is causing an understandable uneasiness among advertisers because there’s a real possibility that this new precedent will negatively impact the effectiveness of their digital ad spend.

So what exactly is the update and should advertisers be concerned?

After March 2021, Apple’s iOS14 ATT privacy update will require apps to get permission from the user before being able to track their data. Craig Federighi, Apple’s senior vice president of Software Engineering, explains,

“Privacy means peace of mind, it means security, and it means you are in the driver’s seat when it comes to your own data. Our goal is to create technology that keeps people’s information safe and protected. We believe privacy is a fundamental human right, and our teams work every day to embed it in everything we make.”

From the Apple user’s perspective, when opening an app, they’ll be prompted to answer “yes” or “no” when asked if the app is allowed to track them. If they say no, they’ll still receive ads but they’ll be less personalized than if they were to opt-in. Opting out also means that the user’s behavior, including their conversions, cannot be tracked and they cannot be retargeted by advertisers.

With that being said, this does not mean that advertiser’s digital ad campaigns are doomed. While a whopping 60 percent of mobile users use Apple devices, a January 2021 survey of more than 2,000 iPhone and iPad owners revealed that:

  • 59 percent would allow tracking if that’s how the app delivers relevant content.
  • 48 percent would allow tracking if it meant not losing access to content or features they currently enjoy
  • 74 percent would rather have tracking enabled than pay for content or features that are currently free
  • 43 percent would be willing to accept being tracked if the app is upfront about the data collected and their applications

So what does this mean for advertisers?

Advertisers can take comfort knowing that behavioral targeting while on Facebook or Instagram will not be affected and there will be very low impact to cross-platform targeting.

However, tracking conversions and retargeting impressions from Apple devices will go down. In addition, Facebook and Instagram will only allow up to eight conversion events to be tracked and they’ll only be able to track Apple device conversions up to seven days post-click and their view-through tracking will be reduced to one day after the ad was seen. In both instances, these used to be trackable for 28 days.

The good news is, this doesn’t mean that conversions aren’t happening. They’re just not all going to be tracked and it will be harder to target ads to Apple device users on the Facebook Audience Network. There are also companies like Google that are currently testing probabilistic matching. Essentially, probabilistic matching looks at a group of people and their conversions and assigns those behaviors to other groups allowing an estimate for the number of conversions taking place.

Until the privacy update rolls out completely and we see how many Apple users decide to opt-out, we simply won’t know the full impact this will have on digital advertising strategies.

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