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Tags: Privacy, GDPR, Advertiser, Publisher

In June, Apple’s annual Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC) announced a series of changes to its devices and operating systems as always. The most important of these updates, and also the biggest concern to advertisers and publishers, is Apple’s AppTrackingTransparency framework and the future of IDFA. At the beginning, Apple announced that the planned changes were being implemented with the September iOS 14 update, but at the last minute before release, the company wanted to give developers more time and postpone requirements for using IDFA until early 2021.

Mobile app advertising is a huge market, with Apple iOS apps accounting for a significant share. Therefore, the changes will have an impact on the whole market. But, what kind of updates are these? What is IDFA? What is at stake and does something good follow from the changes?

What is IDFA?

The IDFA, abbreviation for “Identity for Advertisers”, is an identifier used by Apple on iOS devices. IDFA tags are used in the same way as cookies, but they replace cookies in iOS apps because cookies are problematic on mobile where people spend much of their time in apps instead of a browser. Advertisers use IDFA to identify iOS, iPadOS and tvOS users in apps, e.g. to enable personalized and targeted advertising, frequency capping, and measure the effectiveness of campaigns. Google's response to IDFA on an Android phone is AAID / GAID (Android advertising ID or Google Advertising ID).

In general, third-party cookies used for online monitoring have a generally short lifespan: spanning on average from one to thirty days. In contrast, IDFA does not change unless the user changes it in the phone settings.

Prior to the introduction of IDFA, advertisers were able to track iPhone activity using a Unique Device Identifier (UDID). The big advantage that IDFA offers over UDID is the choice for the consumers. The UDID was a permanent device number and its sharing could not be disabled, whereas in the IDFA era, users have the option to restrict the use of the identifier or change the IDFA on a regular basis. IDFAs will also be available in the upcoming privacy update, but only with consent.

User’s choice - IDFA Opt-in

From the beginning of 2021, iOS applications must obtain consent from users to track their ads or use the IDFA. Consent should be asked through the new AppTrackingTransparency Framework. Permission is sought to link user or device information collected from the application to information collected from other applications, websites or offline sources, for targeted advertising or to measure advertising.

Consent must be requested before monitoring occurs, either when the application is downloaded or opened, or when certain features of the application are used. Underlying the change is Apple wanting the users to understand the apps’ privacy policies before downloading and using the app. Apple announces on the developers' privacy page that publishers are responsible for any third-party scripts on their applications. The publisher should also describe what information the third-party script collects, how the information can be used and whether the information is used to follow the user.

What is in danger, what will die and what will change?

IDFA is important for two reasons:

  • IDFA is one of the most accurate ways to measure user interaction between ads and iOS apps.
  • It offers a high level of privacy and fully emphasizes the user's own choice.

If IDFA is available and possible to use it is very useful for advertisers. AdTech companies, such as SSPs, DSPs, and ad networks and Mobile Measurement Partners (MMPs), use IDFA to identify users, enabling:

  • Ad targeting and re-targeting
  • Frequency capping
  • Measuring your campaign
  • Attribution
  • Detection of advertising fraud

Of course, these things will continue to be possible with IDFA, but only if the user gives consent to use data. If iOS users deny access to their information, they will still be shown ads, but they will be based on other methods, such as contextual targeting.

For advertising measurement and attribution, Apple provides advertisers with an alternative option through SKAdNetwork. Apple's SKAdNetwork strives to provide conversion data to advertisers without disclosing user- or device-level information. It’s Apple’s version of a privacy-friendly way to keep track of what has impacted app installation.

Something good?

We believe that the ecosystem only succeeds through transparency. The good news is that when big changes take place in the whole ecosystem, it opens up opportunities for new creation and new types of competition. It remains to be seen how quickly the change will begin to show in the market and what the impact will actually be.

Some are predicting that about 10-20% of users will not give permission to use IDFA. If things go the other way and only 10-20% give permission, it means in practice that IDFA is dead. We will follow the situation with interest.


Adexchanger - Apple Will Delay Its IDFA Changes In IOS 14 Until ‘Early Next Year’, Will Apple’s Deadline Extension Change How Developers Get Ready For IDFA Changes In IOS 14?

Digiday - Contextual targeting is going to be the new black’: As IDFA restrictions loom, advertisers brace for the fallout

Forbes - IDFA Stay Of Execution: Apple Delays New iOS 14 Privacy Measures Until 2021

Apple: App Tracking Transparency Framework, User Privacy and Data Use, SKAdNetwork

Suvi Leino
By: Suvi Leino

Responsible for marketing and communications at Relevant Digital.


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