The true impact of Apple's iOS privacy update

Written by
Robert Webster

19 May, 2021

The Apple privacy update, first announced in the summer of 2020 (and strongly rumoured for a couple of years previously) finally came into effect at the end of April 2021. There was much hand-wringing and concern, but now that this update has been released, does the reality match the expected impact? What are the answers to the big questions this update posed?

What was the opt in rate?

Apple’s mobile Ad ID (MAID), the IDFA, became opt-in via this initiative. For effective tracking and targeting to take place, a user would have to opt in to the use of data on both the publisher and the advertiser app. Therefore, a high opt-in rate - as generally seen by the opt-in TCF framework in web advertising - would be needed for individual buying and tracking to be effective. Although the opt-in rate has been very low, Appsflyer, one of the biggest tracking partners in this space, is seeing averages around the 15% mark for opt-in. Outside the US, numbers have been reported at 5% to 10% with real world numbers across that range (and often towards the bottom). These numbers, presuming they hold steady, suggest that ID-based targeting and tracking at scale is effectively a thing of the past for iOS apps.

What has it meant for advertisers?

That depends on how well prepared they were for the update. While all paid social apps have been impacted to some degree, the two most impacted channels have been Facebook and in-app display.

For advertisers that did not take any mitigating steps, the impact has been savage. Reported sales numbers figures are often four or five times lower than before the Apple privacy update with more than commensurate increases in CPA. Retargeting volumes are also down, and increased competition has pushed up prices on Android apps as well as Apple devices that have not yet received the update. Expect the situation to get worse as, initially, only 10% of Apple devices had the required update, now rising to over 50%. Yet for advertisers that were well prepared, the impact has been much more benign. Those setup to use SK Ad networks, Apple's privacy first, no user-level tracking service, are seeing only modest drops in sales volume both in platform and in the real world.

As advertisers and publishers alike adjust to the new status quo this dynamic shows how much the gap between the prepared and the unprepared is only going to grow as the privacy first era develops over the next 12 months. Facebook was by far the most prepared publisher and whilst it has in absolute terms taken a hit it has fared much better marginally than other publishers. As discussed above the same is true for the more prepared advertisers - actually helping them grow market share by being able to successfully operate in a key channel.

Rob Webster is the co-founder of Canton Marketing Solutions, a consultancy aimed at helping brands take control of their digital marketing activity. He is an industry expert with over 20 years experience, holding leadership positions at both agencies and ad-tech companies including Media Com, Yahoo, Tacoda and Crimtan.

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