IDFA Tracking: How Apple’s Decision Impacts Mobile Marketers

So far, this year has been a roller coaster for marketers, especially those focusing on mobile devices. There was a scramble to manage the impact of Covid-19, while months later there were signs of optimism as mobile channels seemed to pick up steam as people stayed home more and connected over digital channels.

Marketers received another shock to this system when Apple recently announced that in the interest of putting user privacy concerns first, it would ask users’ permission before allowing IDFA tracking on mobile apps. In making this pronouncement, many have said Apple has effectively killed IDFA tracking and upended an $80 billion industry.

In the wake of Apple’s decision on IDFA it is worthwhile to take stock of how this impacts marketers who have long depended on in-app tracking, as well as reverberations of this decision on all digital marketers. Many may be forced to adopt new strategies, while other forms of tracking will not be affected at all.

What is IDFA?

Everyone is familiar with cookies—the ID tags stored on your computer’s browser that track your website interactions. Cookies help marketers create personalized content for users while they are browsing the web. However, cookies don’t work when mobile users engage within apps on a mobile device. This need led to IDFA (Identity for Advertisers) on the iPhone to track interactions with apps and advertisers while using an app.

Historically, IDFA has been one of the most useful tools for mobile marketers to track user engagement with mobile applications. Each iOS device is assigned a single user ID, meaning marketers know with certainty how consumers are interacting with their apps and advertisements within the app. Think of when you’re reading an article on a sports app and you click an ad for new jerseys for your team—it’s IDFA that lets marketers know about those kind of interactions. However, IDFA data is only known in the aggregate, i.e. data for all users.

IDFA has been very important for marketers to determine the attribution for their marketing spend: giving them insight into when an ad is successful at producing clicks and conversions. This attribution goes a step farther when a user creates an account for an app and makes any purchases—marketing efforts can then be directly attributed to that app adoption or sale.

Did Apple Really Kill IDFA?

In realty, IDFA is not “dead.” But what Apple did do is announce that it would require that users must have a choice upfront to opt-in or opt-out of advertiser tracking starting with iOS 14, an update coming to iPhones and iPads this September.

This is not the first hit that IDFA has taken. In 2016, when Apple rolled out iOS 10, they introduced Limit Ad Tracking, or LAT. With LAT, users could go into their settings and block IDFA tracking. This made it possible for users to limit app tracking, but because it required the knowledge and effort to go into settings and make this adjustment, the majority of mobile users did not impose LAT. The result was a minor disruption, leading to an estimated 13% of users opting out.

But with Apple’s announcement that users will immediately be asked if they will allow IDFA tracking upon downloading or updating an app, tracking “opt-ins” are expected to plummet, rendering IDFA tracking all but useless as a tool for marketers to measure engagement and attribution. While experts have predicted that Apple would make this move, it does not make the aftermath any less chaotic.

The Impact on Mobile Marketers

There’s seems to be no shortage of dramatic explanations of how this will disrupt the work of mobile marketers: reports have characterized it akin to an “apocalypse” or “Thanos snap.” Essentially, an extinction-level event for mobile marketers.

There is also no hope that this would only be an issue for Apple devices and leave Android marketers free and clear, as many reports note that Google and Apple nearly always follow one another when it comes to questions of privacy. The Android version of LAT, Ad Personalization, came out just a year after Apple’s Limit Ad Tracking decision.

Estimates from Mobile Dev Memo are that just 10-20% of mobile users will opt in to IDFA (though other blogs report the range anywhere from 1% to 50%), which would deliver a massive blow to the MMP (mobile measurement partner) industry. One possible way forward for brands to continue to track user engagement is to require more in-app logins via email or phone number so that users are connected and tracked by their own account.

Questions remain about these and other potential loopholes. If a user has opted out of IDFA, but then logs in using an email, can advertisers track off that email? And how will Apple monitor and enforce such measures? Some of these questions, including seeing how many users actually opt in to IDFA, should be answered come this September with the rollout of iOS 14. Still, many marketers are not eager to sit around and wait for these answers and are already looking for more definitive ways to measure attribution.

Will It Impact Call Tracking?

Call tracking, because it uses trackable phone numbers for consumers to dial and call, is not set to be impacted by Apple’s IDFA decision. Call tracking by Phonexa tracks attribution from dynamic tracking numbers on mobile web browsers and search applications. Once a number is called, the consumer has already opted in to the tracking process. Because the IDFA only applies to in-app engagement, tracking capabilities would not be impacted, though some questions could arise in the rare case of any dynamic tracking numbers found within an app.

One takeaway from Apple’s IDFA news is the reminder it offers to businesses and marketers of the challenges that exist when seeking attribution within a tech company infrastructure. One value of call tracking is that it gives marketers the opportunity to learn their attribution with something as simple as a phone call—while still delivering advanced analytics that allow marketers to build optimized campaigns.

We invite you to schedule time with our experts if you would like to learn more about Phonexa call tracking.

Mark Kosin is a Content Writer at Phonexa, covering topics such as SaaS technology, call tracking, lead generation, and digital marketing. His background includes experience in copywriting, search engine optimization, B2B marketing, social media, and video production.

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