At the annual Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC), Apple released a bunch of changes to its devices and operating systems as it always does.
But hidden among these were a series of privacy updates to iOS that nearly eliminated an important element of in-app mobile advertising and measurement — the Apple IDFA.
So what is the IDFA? And how does this affect the mobile marketing world?
The History of the IDFA
Apple introduced the Apple IDFA in 2012 as a replacement for the Unique Device Identifier (UDID).
The UDID is a feature of iOS devices that is fetched when a user tries to activate the Apple device using iCloud or the Setup app. Similar to the IDFA, advertisers, and publishers rely on the UDID to track user data and behavior. Ad services track the data and other apps a user has installed on their iOS device based on their UDID and use that data to target users, as well as track app usage, setup game networks, and store some simple settings.
Although the UDID was helpful to advertisers, it did have a major downside in terms of privacy.
It was possible to link these tracking codes to a specific user which was a hindrance to user privacy. Also, the UDID was permanent which meant that if it was ever released, it could be directly traced to that user. As the conversation on data privacy took a more prominent role and concerns started to flow in, Apple eventually phased out the UDID and introduced the IDFA.
What is the IDFA?
The Identifier For Advertisers (IDFA) is a semi-permanent string of numbers and letters assigned to Apple devices like iPhones, iPads, and Apple TVs.
It is used by advertisers and app publishers to recognize Apple users across multiple different apps to deliver personalized and targeted advertising, run frequency capping, measure campaign performance, and attribute impressions and clicks to app installs. Fingerprinting for Apple IDFA also allowed the advertiser to identify whether specific users click an ad for payment and attribution purposes.
The main reason to introduce the Apple IDFA was to give power to the consumer. They could now decide if they wanted to share their tracking information with the app or service. Unlike the UDID, users now had the ability to opt-out of targeted marketing campaigns by enabling “Limit Ad Tracking” which restricts the advertiser’s use of the IDFA. Consumers could also reset their IDFA code if they wished to no longer receive personalized advertisements and experiences from advertisers and publishers.
Fingerprinting for Apple IDFA quickly became a core component for the entire mobile marketing ecosystem on iOS, and played a role in countless systems and scenarios, from ad targeting, remarketing, analytics, rate limiting, personalized content, user personas, and more.
But even the IDFA came with its flaws.
The Problems with the IDFA
Although Apple introduced changes and updates to the IDFA system, the opt-in rate remained low and Apple is the one to blame for this.
The option to opt-in to the Apple IDFA program was hidden deep in the recesses of Apple’s settings, making it so that only someone who is actually looking for it can find it.
Pretty convenient, huh?
We thought so and so did other Apple users. And so, as of September 16th, 2020, with the launch of iOS 14, Apple introduced an update to the system. Users are now shown a pop-up when they open the app asking them if they wished to share their information with third-party sites.
By allowing users to choose, it will reduce the amount of data that’s collected and advertisers will no longer be able to accurately target and track those users within apps on iOS devices.
Although a great tool to ensure user privacy, advertisers and publishers will now have to learn to survive without fingerprinting for Apple IDFA and the information that enabled personalized ad targeting. With the adoption rate estimated to be around 10-20%, advertisers are going to have to look for alternatives to maintain their relevance.
Alternatives To The IDFA
The world without the IDFA is not as terrible as one would foresee. Although the Apple IDFA is heading out soon (or at least appears to be), advertisers can still get the information they want.
Here’s our list of the alternate tracking methods advertisers can use to improve ad targeting.
Companies already use fingerprinting to attribute web to app conversion paths.
It collects mobile device attributes like IP addresses, device types, software versions, and more, to identify a device. In a world without IDFA at all, the app-to-app conversion flows could simply mimic the web-to-app flows, using fingerprinting in much the same way.
But even fingerprinting comes with its own set of problems. Apart from the obvious GDPR complications, fingerprinting may not be a viable option as it can be seen as an invasive and non-permissioned type of tracking; the very thing that Apple is trying to avoid.
The SKAdNetwork aims to provide conversion data to advertisers without revealing any user-level or device-level information.
It uses the mobile OS as a privacy-oriented mediator between the publisher, the advertiser, and the ad network that places the ad. The information that is shared does not contain any device identifiers that would allow advertisers to track user behaviors.
There are some downsides, however. Although accuracy increases, the quality of attribution data available to advertisers will be highly compromised as multi-touch attribution is completely out of scope for the SKAdNetwork. Also, campaign optimization and retargeting will also be much harder to do.
The future of the mobile ad industry looks uncertain as advertisers look for new ways to stay relevant.
At Gameopedia, we look to provide accurate metadata that will allow advertisers and networks to achieve true hyper-personalization with effective contextual ad campaigns. Reach out to us to join the future of advertising.