Here are 5 common Apple privacy crackdown myths, debunked for concerned marketers

Apple logo as moon in space

Preparing for Apple’s crackdown on companies tracking its customers is perplexing enough, but a whole load of myths can get in the way too. Some of those myths might even seem instinctively plausible and trip up many marketers.

In particular, these five common misconceptions about restrictions on tracking people on Apple devices bewilder even seasoned mobile marketers. 

Myth: Fingerprinting is a sustainable workaround

Compared to cookies, fingerprinting is more difficult for tech companies like Apple to combat; companies can do it without detection, and it’s tricky to make the technical adjustments needed to be less exposed to it. Furthermore, it’s not a 100% accurate way to identify either a device or a person. It relies on the probability that a device recognized as having certain attributes on one day is the same device with those same attributes on another day. Unsurprisingly, fingerprinting has become one of the de facto workarounds to Apple’s crackdown on granular tracking — despite the company’s insistence, it shouldn’t be used if someone doesn’t want to be tracked. In fact, Apple last tried to warn the industry against fingerprinting in January. Not every company took it seriously. Some of them are waiting to see how Apple will enforce its plan for fingerprinting before making a decision. Still, few companies will want to be linked to such a contentious technique — even if they can get away with it. In fact, many are trying to avoid fingerprinting all together.

“While some companies are trying to come up with solutions that hide in the ambiguity of Apple’s language [on fingerprinting], and they may even get away with it in the first several months, we expect Apple will observe these workarounds, rewrite the rules, patch iOS then drop the hammer on these companies,” said Dennis Mink, vp of marketing at Liftoff.

Myth: IDFA will be the death knell for header bidding on mobile

When Apple kills off the Identifier for Advertisers, header bidding is meant to go with it — at least that’s the presumption. The theory is that if advertisers are only able to buy ads using historical campaign performance data when targeting people without IDFAs then it all but rules out the advantage of being able to make bids on individual impressions via header bidding. Sure, this is likely to be impacted by Apple’s crackdown on mobile tracking, just like everything that’s tied to how ads are traded, but header bidding will continue in some vein. While it’s true that most demand-side platforms use the IDFA as a lynchpin for targeting, header bidding simply allows equal access to inventory for demand partners.

“That world exists as long as you have multiple demand sources bidding for inventory, regardless of why they’re bidding or what they’re using to target,” said Mike Brooks, svp of revenue at Groundtruth-owned weather app WeatherBug. “This may cull low-tier DSPs who struggle to provide unique value outside of IDFA analysis, but the need to optimize publisher yield, and the econometrics, stay the same.”

Myth: The predicted dip in ad prices caused by blunt targeting will allow opportunistic advertisers to spend more

When in-app marketers first realized that the loss in performance on ads without IDFAs could knock ad prices, there were some who saw a chance to gobble up cheap impressions. In theory, it makes sense. Opportunistic advertisers could swoop in and secure bargain rates for impressions. The reality, however, won’t be as straightforward. Few of those cheap impressions will convert into anything tangible for many businesses because they would be less personalized.

Eric Seufert, a mobile consultant and editor of Mobile Dev Memo, goes into a lot more detail about the true cost of those impressions in his blog. He wrote: “The consequence of this dynamic is that, as ad targeting becomes less precise with the imposition of ATT, some portion of ad spend will simply evaporate.”

Myth: Publishers are only at risk from how data is shared from their app

Another realization that has set in with the industry is the understanding that each publisher incurs risk from partners’ decisions outside of their relationship. Apple clearly states in its developer documentation that a publisher is liable for any app tracking transparency (ATT) malfeasance committed by a partner, whether it happens in their app or not.

“This has led to a moment with more industry collaboration than I’ve ever seen, and we’ve been able to alter partner roadmaps significantly with this knowledge,” said Brooks.

Myth: Attribution and optimization begin and ends with SKADNetwork

Often, attribution and optimization post-Apple’s changes get dumbed down to an either-or scenario. Either marketers accept Apple’s view of blunt targeting and limited measurement, or they don’t and take their dollars elsewhere. 

The reality, however, is more nuanced. In fact, there’s a cottage industry being spun up to ensure that marketers don’t have to sacrifice as much as they thought they did, particularly when it comes to attribution and optimization. 

For example, AppsFlyer will let marketers use early signals of engagement (in the first 24 to 72 hours) to predict long-term campaign performance as a workaround to the fact that optimization on the data coming from Apple’s SKADNetwork is near impossible because they only have 24 hours worth of a person’s activity to process. It’s never going to be as precise as what marketers are used to, but it’s something.

“SKADNetwork isn’t the only thing you need to focus on when it comes to measurement,” said Barak Witowski, vp of core product at AppsFlyer. “It has to be embedded together with other attribution models.”

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