New guidelines on iOS 14 have emerged since this post was published, meaning some of the information in this article may be outdated. Please reach out to your dedicated Adjust rep, or firstname.lastname@example.org, for the latest guidance on iOS 14.
Adjust has always been privacy-centric, and we’ve always encouraged measures that enhance user privacy. So the changes introduced by Apple this week for iOS 14 are very much in line with our values. Both Adjust and Apple share a common mission to protect user data from being misused and leveraged beyond measurement.
However, we do see the need to gain more clarity on Apple's definition of tracking. The current consent form which challenges “tracking [users] across apps and websites owned by other companies” does not describe what Adjust does with the data collected.
As a GDPR-compliant data processor and CCPA service provider, we use the IDFA only within the scope of a single app. Device identifiers are never used across different app publishers. When it comes to personalization (“Your data will be used to serve personalized ads to you”), this is not part of the solution Adjust provides. We are working closely with Apple so that we can better understand the future Apple envisions for its platform and the global advertising ecosystem on iOS.
There are a few elements to consider once iOS14 is rolled out in the fall:
- The IDFA is not going away completely, it will instead require explicit consent
- In case the IDFA is not available, SKAdnetwork might provide some basic insights
- Fingerprinting will always be an option to provide compliant attribution
However, as of today, there are still a lot of key unknowns. Most importantly:
- Can SKAdNetwork provide granular enough data to make effective decisions?
- How will deep linking work when using SKAdNetwork?
- How will fraud prevention work in this new environment?
- What will user opt-in rates look like?
As these changes have yet to be rolled out, it is important to emphasize that right now, there is no market-standard solution. And consequently, there is no out-of-the-box product that can offer the same level of accuracy and transparency as what the industry has come to rely on over the past years.
We can confidently say that, as of right now, any company who claims to have an out of the box solution to this very problem overlooks key functional aspects. That’s to be expected: the announcement was made Monday and everything is still falling into place.
When we look at the specifications of SKAdNetwork, it is hard to imagine it can satisfy the needs of a modern marketer:
- Only the last redirect before a download or re-download will trigger attribution, as defined by Apple. This means no configurable attribution settings, no view-through, inactive user reattribution or multi-touch
- It will provide no user-level data and only a single 6-bit value as a downstream metric. This means no retention, revenue, event funnel or any currently common KPI
- SKStoreProductView as the enforced ad format lacks any support for dynamic or deferred deep linking
- It will provide no retargeting or exclusion targeting
- Support for fraud prevention or any other transparency into the data remains unclear
All of this can and will definitely be figured out. But it will take quite a bit of work and time from app developers, Apple, MMPs, Ad Networks, and the industry at large. Jumping on SKAdNetwork as the default solution would be a disservice to our customers and partners.
After discussions with several industry leaders, we identified four potential scenarios for attribution and the larger ad ecosystem:
Option 1: iOS Referrer similar to Google PlayStore Referrer
Right now, SKAdNetwork only provides data to the ad network, with little transparency for anybody else. There is one approach that would both be privacy compliant, and offer transparency to advertisers: introduce a new API similar to Apple’s Search Ads SDK or the Google PlayStore Referrer.
Today's attribution logic would not drastically change, and it would allow MMPs, ad networks and clients to continue operating without much disruption.
The benefits are undeniable: attribution would still be performed by the MMPs, ad networks would still receive callbacks, and advertisers would still have one global source of truth. All downstream metrics would also stay consistent. The clincher? It would also be compliant with Apple’s push for privacy, as the IDFA isn’t needed.
And besides, the same technology has been available for years on Android and iOS - so the whole industry is already accustomed to it.
Of course, this would not solve every problem but it would still offer accurate, verifiable, and transparent attribution.
Option 2: Fingerprinting
Perhaps the easiest solution, Fingerprinting remains unaffected by these changes. Ad networks can still send clicks to MMPs who can still attribute, send callbacks, and surface the data to advertisers. Really nothing much changes with how the data flows today, it would rely on Fingerprinting a lot more.
Both the GDPR and the CCPA provide legal frameworks to collect data for attribution under legitimate exceptions as long as the data is not used beyond this purpose.
But we do not believe this is the ideal solution and we’ve been rather vocal about why relying on Fingerprinting for attribution is not a great idea (read our take on it here). While not ideal, we’ve already started researching solutions to make fingerprinting in such scenarios as accurate as possible.
Option 3: Mandatory or incentivized opt-in
One idea that came up during our discussions with app publishers and advertisers is to either require or incentivize a user's permission to read the IDFA.
Imagine a free game that relies on monetizing through ads. Without the IDFA this might be more difficult and the publisher might offer the user a choice to either purchase an ad-free version or allow access to their IDFA.
Social media apps might simply make it a requirement to accept tracking as part of their terms and conditions and could prevent users without consent to proceed.
This would obviously be a significant change for the industry. It also remains to be seen what Apple would say to this approach, as the change in user experience might result in lower engagement overall.
However, after a transition phase, the ad marketing ecosystem would be fairly similar to what we know today.
Option 4: More granular tracking permissions with attribution as an exception
As already mentioned, we believe that providing ad efficiency measurement and tracking users across multiple apps and websites are two very different things. Apple already provided some exceptions to obtain the IDFA without user opt-in - so there might be a solution to provide attribution in a way that Apple sees as compliant to their ideas of privacy and opt-in that is still based around the IDFA.
At this point, it is too early to tell what the clarifications for those exceptions might look like. Nonetheless, we believe that this is an interesting option worth pursuing, and we will work with our clients and partners to understand any opportunity around this scenario.
We should also pause to consider that the WWDC changes not only affect attribution. Our entire ecosystem needs to understand how best to work with these changes. App publishers big and small will be affected and will need to review their business. Now is not the time for hasty announcements or marketing stunts.
As always, Adjust is committed to working on a viable solution that allows the continued growth of our clients and partners. Only through careful consideration and collaboration can we make sure our industry can adapt and embrace these new rules.