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Apple changed mobile tracking by forcing opt-in as the default. Is it doomsday for mobile analytics?

No. But for those who need to track users aggressively (Consumer Products and free game apps come to mind) things have changed.

Apple threw the gauntlet down directly at Facebook’s feet. No more tracking without permission. Apple introduced iOS 14.5 to the public in April, allowing users to opt-in (or out of) tracking across multiple apps and websites by companies using an IDFA identifier.

IDFA stands for Identifier for Advertisers. It’s the only currently available means for advertisers to target precisely- and more importantly- track users within apps on iOS devices.

IDFA works like a cookie; it’s tied to devices instead of to a browser. It enables an advertiser to get notified when a phone user has engaged in a relevant behavior. Those relevant behaviors would include clicking on an ad in a browser and then installing, using, or interacting with ads in their app.

The IDFA is for apps- not browsers. Apps have never supported cookies.

It’s not as creepy as is it sounds. IDFAs only provide advertisers data in aggregate, and no individually identifiable data is available. Apple is seizing complete control of device monitoring on its platform.

Google is following carefully behind like they did on Chrome. Android has Android Advertising ID (AAID) or Google Advertising ID (GAID). Presently it doesn’t look like these are going anywhere. Google is giving users the ability to turn it off. Still, few consumers are aware of it, and experience suggests that Android users are less concerned about tracking generally.

There aren’t any saints here. Apple is tracking users almost relentlessly. They’ve just made a move to control most of the tracking themselves. The rationale that app builders generally- and Facebook specifically- were not responsible with their tracking is legitimate. Still, the idea that somehow we’re all in control of our digital exhaust now is no more true than it ever was. What is true is that most people don’t like the idea of being tracked and will overwhelmingly choose not to when given a choice.

All this controversy boils down to is the power of “default.” It’s profound. When we decide to use a new tool or app, we want to use it immediately. We expect it to be set up in the most commonly useful way. We assume default settings are configured in a way that most benefits the user. Very few users customize applications. No one reads terms of service. This bias has been exploited since the advent of the web in ways both benign and diabolical. Apple is forcing users to choose to opt-in instead of letting developers set opt-in as default.

The advertising-supported app and those that make them or their advertising work are the most at risk. Mee-maw’s balloon crushing app is going to work differently. Facebook ads will be less trackable, and ad budgets will adjust. Apple had been out of most ad-buy discussions, and now they’ve inserted themselves. For a while, mobile app ads aren’t going to produce the kind of revenue, performance, and analytics they once did. Advertisers heavily reliant on Facebook to target users may wind up spending less efficiently in the near term. We don’t think that’s likely to last. It’s time for transparency. It’s time for everyone to understand the old saying, “If you’re not paying for the product, the product is you.”

Like a phoenix, mobile app data will reemerge- likely more accurate than ever. Most of the hue and cry about lost revenue is little more than changing lanes at the toll booth. Google analytics 4 has been released. Apple now allows app developers to pay for premium space on the app store. Facebook still has many ways to identify and assemble audiences and track conversions.

Of course, if you have any questions about how these changes might be affecting your business, we’re a marketing firm in Annapolis and we’re ready to help.