What iOS 15 means for digital marketing

George Paton-Williams, Head of Marketing

The age of privacy-first marketing is coming. Legislation like GDPR was the dawn of the new era, but recent developments from companies such as Google and Apple will be more responsible for user-level privacy from digital marketing at enormous scale.

This year Apple released iOS 14 that effectively killed a future of user-level tracking in apps. But they are not done yet. In a recent announcement at WWDC, it announced further privacy-focused measures in a future iOS 15 release.

But what are these changes, and what are the implications for digital marketing?

First, the good news:

Some of the major ad platforms have become known as ‘self-attributing networks’ because of their penchant for holding onto advertising data and not enabling marketers to assess for themselves if the performance being reported is accurate. Smaller ad networks have also been responsible for receiving the postback data from app conversions since iOS 14 – which means marketers and their performance data are still kept at arm’s length from each other.

Well, not for much longer.

With iOS 15, app advertisers will now be able to access the full raw data of all postbacks from SKAdNetwork. This is big. Firstly, marketers will be able to build their own picture of the truth and compare it to what ad networks and platforms are reporting. Secondly, marketers will now get publisher-level visibility into what drives results. The greater visibility will drive better planning and budget-setting decisions.

It does get a bit more complicated, though. Check out this article from Singular for more.

Now for the changes that make digital marketing trickier.

‘Private Relay’ – Apple’s native VPN for mobile web browsing

The more privacy-conscious users of the internet have long used Virtual Private Networks to browse the web. VPNs mask a person’s IP address to disguise who they are and what actions they take on a website.

Apple is introducing ‘Private Relay’ as its own VPN to help people obfuscate their IP address. It is interesting to note that Apple is doing it in such a way that even they won’t be able to understand what people are doing.

There are a few implications of this for digital marketers:

  1. Firstly, ‘fingerprinting’ (a probabilistic approach to matching a person to actions) relies heavily on IP addresses. So that rules that out, then. 
  2. Secondly, the nascent world of connected-TV also mainly relies on IP addresses for tracking and targeting. Again, back to the drawing board on that one. 
  3. Thirdly, it will restrict most geo-targeting of ads.
  4. Fourthly, not having IP addresses (in conjunction with the next change from Apple about email, below) makes industry attempts at creating a ‘unified ID’ as a workaround to the deprecation of the cookie much harder.

H/T to Robert Webster making most of these points very succinctly in this article.

Mail Privacy Protection

Users of the Apple Mail app will be able to make sure that email marketers won’t be able to see if you opened their emails, or see your IP address. While the lessened ability to report accurately on email campaigns is a hit to marketers, the other pain point will be around the success of automated email programs that rely on knowing whether someone opened an email.

Whilst this sounds like it will only impact email marketers, there is another new email feature that will have big consequences for advertisers.

Apple is introducing ‘Hide My Email’, which makes it easy for users to sign up to services using ‘burner’ emails. The aim is to give people more privacy from sharing of email data and to reduce the amount of promotional emails people get. This is important to advertisers for three reasons.

Reason number 1: Email addresses are an important piece of data for building lookalike audiences. And we all know how valuable these are for performance marketing. Sure, the scalability of LALs was already shrinking because of iOS14, but this will only make things harder.

Reason number 2: Email addresses (alongside IP addresses) are used to create a unified picture of users as they travel around the internet. But if a person is hiding behind, say, 100 email addresses through Apple, the industry will find it pretty tough to match those up to correctly identify one person.

Reason number 3 follows from this. Logged-in environments, like Facebook and Google, will still be able to carry on as normal thanks to server-to-server tracking. Clearly this is going to widen the already growing divide between these major platforms and literally everyone else. These logged-in platforms already have such a strong proposition. This will only make them stronger, but at the expense of independent adtech.

What do digital marketers need to do?

Sure, Apple is only responsible for about half of the market. But it is safe to presume that where Apple follows, others will go. Like we expect Android to implement similar measures to ATT and SKAdNetwork, we also expect other browsers and email providers to catch up to avoid risking loss of users.

Therefore the building blocks of the last 20 years of digital marketing will need to be replaced. And the new foundations will be 1st party data. Marketers need to be preparing by developing a comprehensive 1st party data strategy centered around consent and how to provide real value in exchange for permission to use their data.

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