What does Apple’s IDFA decision mean for marketers?

Apple CEO Tim Cook has long said privacy doesn’t need to come at the expense of innovation and the tech giant’s latest move puts more control in the user’s hands

Apple announced earlier this year its Identifier for Advertisers (IDFA), which allows marketers to attribute app usage on an iPhone or iPad with a user acquisition campaign, is being effectively disabled. It sent something of a shockwave through the mobile marketing industry.

Data and artificial intelligence company, ADA, CEO, Srinivas Gattamneni, said of Apple's decision that marketers will struggle with building lookalike audiences - audiences of anonymous people who share similar characteristics to their target audience - with IDFA disabled.

“This also has an impact on giants like Facebook and Google who will find it tougher to help their clients optimise campaign targeting,” Gattamneni said.

The tech giant, which has skin in the mobile game itself, has nevertheless introduced privacy measures with its Safari browser to limit tracking and now this. The IDFA, like Google’s equivalent, the GAID, sat under the bonnet of mobile devices in the settings and out of reach of users to find and disable it themselves. 

With the upcoming release of iOS14, expected to be in September, Apple is making it opt-in by default, handing the power to users to allow advertisers to track the device across apps and the Web. It’s the latest privacy protection move by Apple, after it turned on alerts for location-based tracking in the current version of the operating system.

TrafficGuard COO and cofounder, Luke Taylor, cautioned that removing IDFA would be detrimental to advertisers not just because it limits verification, but could exacerbate ad fraud.

“With less transparency, fraud is likely to flourish, compounding the challenges of attribution and optimisation,” Taylor explained to CMO.

While the mobile ad network has suffered from lack of transparency, Taylor believed removing identifiers will give fraudsters more ways to boost invalid traffic.

"The advertising industry has been calling out for greater transparency, which is in direct contrast to the privacy-focused direction browsers and operating systems are moving,” he said. “Unfortunately, measures such as eliminating third-party cookies and other identifiers like IDFA reduce transparency and make it easier for fraud to masquerade as real human traffic."

Privacy regulations like Europe’s GDPR and California’s CCPA, along with Google’s decision to block third-party cookies in Chrome, have moved the dial on privacy protections for consumers. Now Apple has signalled it will turn the dial further.

Read more: 5 things marketers should know about data privacy in 2020

Winterberry Group senior managing partner, Bruce Biegel, told CMO Apple’s decision is part of eventually eliminating mobile ad IDs and Apple is serving notice it’s going to enforce a limited set of use cases for the IDFA “which will make identity-driven targeting and customer analytics more challenging in the iOS world”.

“The fact is that it has been a matter of when, and not if, there would be more restriction - and by serving notice that proper use is going to be enforced, it provides the industry with time to implement first party and other alternative identity solutions that are in testing and rollout today,” he said.

Gattamneni meanwhile said marketers will need to pivot to letting old-fashioned creative make an impact. “Social listening and video analytics tools will provide the insights to inform the creative process. And creative automation will allow generation of creatives at scale for better targeting and optimisation,” he added.

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