IDFA Tracking: How Apple’s Decision Impacts Mobile Marketers

7 minute read
7 minute read

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

In the wake of Apple’s tracking decision on IDFA, it is worthwhile to take stock of how this impacts marketers who have long depended on in-app tracking and the long-term impacts of IDFA blocking on all digital marketers. Many were forced to adopt new strategies, while other tracking forms were not affected.

Let’s examine in more detail the basics of IDFA tracking and how the latest changes to IDFA will impact the industry.

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 browsing the web.

However, cookies don’t work when mobile users engage within apps on a mobile device. This need led to the introduction of IDFA.

What Does IDFA Stand For?

IDFA, otherwise known as the identifier for advertisers, is the only way for advertisers to accurately track the interactions of iOS users within mobile apps.

How IDFA Tracking Works

Historically, IDFA Apple has been one of the most valuable tools for mobile marketers to track user engagement with mobile applications. While IDFA is a lot like a cookie, it’s tied to mobile devices instead of browsers.

Each iOS device is assigned a single user ID. The assigned Apple advertising ID enables advertisers to track and identify iOS users and deliver customized ads to them without revealing their personal information.

Here’s what advertisers can find out through IDFA tracking:

  • In-app events triggered by iOS users
  • Time of the interactions with mobile ad campaigns
  • Reasons behind user interactions

This information helps advertisers compile the necessary anonymized data to build user profiles. Basically, that is how advertisers pair iOS users with advertisements that correspond to their interests.

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 your iPhone advertising ID that lets marketers know about those kinds of interactions. However, IDFA Apple data is only known in the aggregate, i.e., data for all iOS users.

Similarly, Google uses a device identifier called Android advertising ID. Assigned by Google Play services, this ID enables Android users to reset or opt-out of interest-based advertisements within the apps.

Why IDFA Was Important

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.

What’s Changed With the Last iOS 14 Update?

Did Apple kill IDFA tracking? In reality, IDFA is not “dead.” But what Apple did do is announce that it would require that iOS users 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 tracking settings and make this adjustment, most mobile users did not impose LAT. The result was a minor disruption, leading to an estimated 13% of users opting out.

Reasons Behind IDFA Opt-in

Users are becoming increasingly aware of the ability of companies like Google, Facebook, and Apple to track every single move they make online. The growing concerns about privacy resulted in strong moves toward user privacy, like Apple’s tracking decision on IDFA.

With Apple’s announcement that users will immediately be asked if they agree to opt-in to tracking upon downloading or updating an app, tracking “opt-ins” are expected to plummet, rendering IDFA tracking 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.

Since the update coming in September will limit advertisers’ attribution capabilities, they will have to look for an IDFA alternative. At this point, Apple’s SKAdNetwork is the only option for attribution that is not relying on the IDFA. But there’s a catch: it effectively cuts out third-party attribution options.

How To Find IDFA on iPhone

Most iOS users know that their devices don’t grant access to the IDFA. However, there is good news for those looking to view their IDFA device settings. You can access this information by downloading third-party tools like My TUNE Device.

How Will It Affect Mobile Advertising Campaigns?

There seems to be no shortage of dramatic explanations of how this will disrupt the work of mobile marketers: reports have characterized it as 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 for brands to continue tracking user engagement is to require more in-app logins via email or phone number so that users are connected and tracked by their accounts.

Questions remain about these and other potential loopholes. Can advertisers track off that email if a user has opted out of IDFA but logs in using an email? And how will Apple monitor and enforce such measures?

Some of these questions, including seeing how many iOS users opt-in to IDFA, should be answered 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.

Google Privacy-first Approach

As one of the largest tech companies, Google processes significant volumes of data gathered mainly through tracking. With the latest news on Apple’s IDFA, it won’t come as a surprise if Google announces a similar decision apart from phasing out third-party cookies.

It can be an alternative to individual identifiers that enable advertisers to create cohorts, for example, and eliminate the need to track individual users across the web. While that is just speculation, we will have to wait and see how the company will ensure a privacy-first digital environment.

What To Expect from Marketing Post-IDFA

With Google looking to make privacy-first moves and Apple’s IDFA tracking update, it’s pretty clear marketers will have to look for alternative ways to reach, engage, and retain audiences.

Naturally, users across platforms and devices are primarily concerned about the transparency of tracking practices, meaning marketers will have to adapt. When it comes to driving app engagement, playable ads can be a clear winner given the circumstances. But that’s not a one-size-fits-all situation and requires additional assessment.

Driving opt-ins is not easy, but thinking of the motivating factors and matching ad creatives to these factors can help marketers unlock the potential behind this approach.

Will Apple’s Decision Impact Phonexa Call Tracking?

Because it uses trackable phone numbers for consumers to dial and call, call tracking is not impacted by Apple’s IDFA decision. Phonexa’s call tracking software, Call Logic, tracks attribution from dynamic tracking numbers on mobile web browsers and search applications. Once a number is called, the consumer has already opted into the tracking process.

Since the IDFA only applies to in-app engagement, tracking capabilities would not be impacted. However, 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 its reminder to businesses and marketers of the challenges of seeking attribution within a tech company infrastructure. One value of call tracking is that it allows marketers to learn their attribution with something as simple as a phone call—while still delivering advanced analytics that allows marketers to build optimized campaigns.

Schedule a consultation with one of Phonexa’s experts for a free demo to learn how call tracking can help you get closed-loop attribution to where consumers engage the most.

Got Questions?

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Phonexa is the leading all-in-one platform for call tracking, lead distribution, email, marketing, and digital marketing. The Phonexa staff is responsible for authorship of Phonexa blog posts.
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