App Data, Privacy, and the IDFA Armageddon: Industry Leaders’ Takes

In June, Apple announced the depreciation of the iOS Users’ Identifier for Advertisers (IDFA). This is the biggest change in the mobile app advertising ecosystem in the past 10 years. For some in our industry, IDFA removal will be company crushing, while for others it will create a tremendous opportunity.

Given the magnitude of this change, I thought it would be helpful to create a roundup and share the thinking of some of our industry’s brightest minds.

First, some context: What changed?

In iOS 14, users will be asked if they want to be tracked by the app. That’s a major change that will likely have a ripple effect. By allowing users to reject tracking, it will reduce the amount of data that’s collected, preserving user privacy.

Apple also said it will require app developers to self-report the kinds of permissions that their apps request. This will improve transparency, allowing the user to know what kind of data they may have to give over in order to use the app. It also will explain how that collected data could be tracked outside of the app.

Here’s what other industry leaders had to say about the impact:

Gadi Eliashiv, CEO, Singular

“Apple hit the reset button on app marketing in iOS. The IDFA powers basically the entire iOS advertising industry: user tracking, marketing measurement, attribution, ad targeting, ad monetization, programmatic advertising (DSPs, Exchanges, SSPs), device graphs, retargeting, and audiences. Advertisers are faced with a higher level of complexity created by partial IDFA views, fingerprinting, SKAdNetwork, deeplinks, Android, and more.”

Paul H. Müller, Co-Founder & CTO, Adjust

“The biggest challenge of providing IDFA-based attribution under iOS 14 is that you would need the IDFA for every device that installs an advertiser’s app, as soon as the app opens.  There is no logical way to get users’ permission this early on, especially for apps that don’t even show ads and monetize instead through subscriptions and in-app purchases. This is the central problem and one of the main reasons why some in the industry have proclaimed it as the ‘death of the IDFA’.”

Oren Kaniel, CEO, Appsflyer

“While we expect that the specifics of the [iOS 14 privacy-related] announcements will evolve with the beta versions of iOS14, we believe that the announcement in its current form will create meaningful challenges for partners, customers, and the app economy at large. Lack of, or inaccurate, attribution also means that app developers can’t monetize their work; iOS developers are generating tens of billions of dollars in revenue from advertising, which are at risk of disappearing without proper measurement.”

Alex Austin, CEO, Branch.io

“I can’t imagine a single user that would ever agree to let themselves be ‘tracked around the internet.’ There’s no way this will see anything but accidental adoption. Therefore, we must assume that IDFA is no longer usable… this is a fundamental elimination of basic capabilities like user-level attribution, retargeting audiences, look-alike audiences, and so much more.”

Vivek Girotra, Sr. Director of Growth Marketing, Elevate Labs

“I think the Apple IDFA change is a seminal event for the entire mobile industry. There are many companies whose business models are going to get completely obliterated, and others whose lofty valuations are going to get severely cut down. Anyone who thinks otherwise is either foolhardy or indulging in wishful thinking… My crystal ball predictions: Retargeting, device graphs, buying models like VO & tROAS, and companies that depend on real-time data are dead in the water. Given the mainstream focus on privacy, Google will likely follow suit, and the Android device ID will suffer the same fate soon. While SAN’s and MMP’s have suffered a huge punch to the gut, they are pervasive and resourceful enough and will figure out some solutions that the industry will eventually converge towards.”

Pau Quevedo, Lead Programmatic Trader, Goodgame Studios

“We were already expecting something in this direction since the rumors were increasing a lot in the last few weeks. IDFAs being the oil of the user acquisition industry, it’s clear it will have a severe impact on the ad tech industry. It may trigger a return to a probabilistic marketing approach, maybe with PMP Deals and contextual targeting coming back. From a publisher’s perspective, it means we have to work on our first-party data more so we can leverage it effectively. For UA, the big players will probably find some way to remain as deterministic as possible. But for the smaller players, it will probably get tougher. Retargeting remains an open question. We hope to see some solutions coming up in the near future.”

Here’s My Take!

As an industry, we must embrace the new rules of iOS14 and create a sustainable future for both app developers and advertisers. I believe we can all agree that user consent is important for any app that monetizes through advertising. Also, there are options to provide user-level attribution and necessary data for performance advertising within Apple’s acceptable framework. I’d encourage all publishers to talk to Apple and seek clarification on process and end-user consent along with the use of IDFVs & SKAdNetwork product road map, etc. 

I expect that publishers will aggressively move to optimize their sign-up funnels to maximize consent or live with campaign-only-level metrics and lose end-user targeting. If you’d like to continue to optimize towards ROAS, we encourage you to think of privacy consent as a step in the UA conversion funnel necessary to show targeted ads to consumers.

If I had to predict the future, Phase 1 of iOS 14 rollout could look like this:

  • In the first month of iOS rollout, the supply chain for performance advertising will experience a short-term hit, especially for remarketing.
  • First Step: Publishers optimize user consent flows
  • Second Step: User “opt-in” sharing increases
  • Third Step: Fingerprinting users rapidly expands in an attempt to maintain the status quo.
    • A publisher’s internal fingerprinting, IDFV (which or may not leverage fingerprinting), may not create a privacy problem if it is not used for re-marketing/re-targeting. If abused, Apple is sure to shut it down quickly.
    • While fingerprinting is outside of Apple’s control, it appears highly likely to fragment the ecosystem and will create more barriers for entry to building competitive measurement solutions.
    • If a publisher or MMP sends their fingerprinting to a third-party network, this may be a violation of Apple’s policy which may result in getting an app rejected by Apple’s App Store.
    • Open questions remain on how audiences comprised of apps and down-funnel user actions (purchases, etc.) without user consent will be created and used.

Mid-Term:

  • Fingerprinting will be an 18-24-month solution and entered into everyone’s internal algorithm/optimization black box. As SKAdNetwork matures, Apple is likely to shut down fingerprinting or reject apps that violate its App Store policy.
  • There will be sustained challenges for programmatic/exchanges/DSP solutions.
  • SKAdNetwork must be enhanced with Campaign/AdSet/Ad level information to keep the mobile ad network functioning.

Long Term:

  • User consent optimization becomes a core competency.
  • Human-driven, creative ideation and optimization is the primary lever for user acquisition profitability across networks.
  • Incrementality and optimal channel mix become critical.

We’re all in this boat together, and we are looking forward to working with Apple, Facebook, Google, and MMPs to participate in shaping the future of our mobile app industry.

Keep watching for more updates from us regarding IDFA changes, as iOS 14 launch is fast approaching.

Brian Bowman is CEO of ConsumerAcquisition.com.

Tags: