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Apple IDFA + Mobile App Advertising

Apple IDFA + Mobile App Advertising
Jonah Cait
Apple's IDFA is critical for digital apps to be able to target digital ads and measure results.

What's Happening?

In June, Apple said iOS 14 would allow users to opt out of in-app ad tracking. Specifically, this refers to IDFA restrictions, which stands for 'Identifier for Advertisers'. This identifier is used in non-browser apps, which never had support for cookies.

The opportunity to opt-out of in-app advertising will be extended to iPhones, iPads, and Apple TVs.

Following some major pushback from the advertising community, Apple is postponing planned IDFA restrictions until "sometime next year."

Why It Matters

Apple's IDFA is critical to digital apps' capacity to target digital ads and measure results.

When Apple's update to in-app tracking rolls out, it will require installed apps to ask users for permission to collect and share identifying data. Given the prompt (and the years of low-quality in-app experiences), very few people are expected to opt into being tracked.

Facebook has warned that the change could severely impact their operations. “Apple’s updates may render Audience Network so ineffective on iOS 14 that it may not make sense to offer it on iOS 14.” While the audience network does not represent the majority of available advertising inventory, Facebook no longer serving Audience Network impressions on iOS is a big statement.

This change will also have a big impact on mobile game and apps, as historically their business models have been to provide free apps in exchange for in-app advertising. If as a result of IDFA restrictions, these ads prove to be less effective, it will necessitate new thinking in terms of app development and distribution.

Moving Forward

Apple first introduced its SKAdNetwork API in 2018. The low-key, privacy-focused test API allowed ad networks to attribute installs directly from the App Store without relying on the IDFA.

Apple’s original API documentation two years ago was very light on detail, but have since added in a bit more granularity to the API, including data on which publisher is responsible for driving which install.

The real challenge with in-app advertising will be the limitations re: data passed back. The API will not pass back personally identifiable information, which in more simple terms means no view-through attribution, information on impressions, creative, remarketing, in-app events, lookback windows, user lifetime value, ROI, retention, and more.

To the average advertiser, this may not have a significant impact – these privacy issues are currently restricted to in-app advertising. If you're heavily invested in mobile apps, be prepared to lean more heavily on A/B testing and contextual targeting. We'll discuss cookies and browser-specific tracking concerns in a future blog post, but we'll keep you up-to-date as the industry continues to change and evolve.

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