Robin Langford Robin Langford Premium Content Editor, Performance Marketing World

Apple’s ad privacy crackdown finally gets real

While Google’s Chrome cookie lives on for another year and a half, Apple has followed through on its own privacy crackdown for iOS users.  Here’s what performance marketers need to know about their changing iPhone audience… 

Last week, Apple iOS 15 beta testers were presented with the choice to opt out of personalised ads when opening the Apple App Store or Stock applications. This is the first time that Apple has granted such permission to users. 

The move forms part of a wider range of privacy tools to give users more control over their privacy… and advertisers with less. 

From personalised ads to Apple ads?

The new feature allowing an opt out of personalised ads means that instead of searching for sports scores and seeing ads for team kits, users  may find themselves seeing ads for the latest TV show coming to Apple TV+.

Commenting on the specific option to opt out of personalised ads, Lloyd Davies', managing director at Making Science UK, says: “Apple's move to allow users to opt out of personalised ads for the first time is a clear indication that the company is stepping up its commitment to privacy changes, and while it feels like a natural step for the company, regulatory bodies have also played a role in forcing this change. 

“Interestingly, Apple will not use the standard ATT consent prompt it forces other apps to use. Therefore, it will be able to use its own language and design to encourage users to provide consent, demonstrating that the playing field still isn’t levelled.’’

“While this development raises doubts over Apple’s true intentions over user privacy, those speculating whether ITP, iOS 14 and iOS 15 were precursors to Apple getting much more heavily involved in advertising are probably left thinking that this latest move is only increasing the likelihood of that happening.”

iCloud Private Relay - Apple’s ‘built in VPN’

Following the beta test, the mobile operating system iOS 15 is scheduled to launch later this month, when all users will be given an option to opt-in to targeting, rather than be automatically opted in, as was previously the case. 

The move comes after a raft of updates  designed to give users more say in how their data is used, while allowing advertisers to serve targeted ads in a more privacy-centric way. 

One of the new features of iOS 15 is iCloud Private Relay, which is offers an extra layer of security that protects users’ privacy while browsing the web. 

With this option enabled, the user’s real IP address is not shown to third-party servers so that they cannot track them across the web (known as ‘fingerprinting’). 

How it works

  • ‌iCloud‌ Private Relay sends all web traffic to a server that is maintained by Apple where information like IP address is stripped. 

  • Once the info is removed, the traffic is sent to a secondary server that's maintained by a third-party company/

  • The traffic is then assigned a temporary IP address, and then the traffic is sent on to its destination.

No more ‘fingerprinting’

By having a two-step process that involves both an Apple server and a third-party server, ‌‌iCloud‌‌ Private Relay prevents anyone, including Apple, from determining a user's identity and linking it to the website the user is visiting.

With this system, Apple knows the user’s IP address and the third-party partner knows the site the user is visiting, and because the information is de-linked, neither Apple nor the partner company (or advertiser) has a complete picture of the site the user is visiting or their location, and neither does the website they are browsing. Normally websites have access to this data and combined with cookies, can use it to build a profile of the user’s preferences. 

Virtually all ads on websites and apps are based on data collected by this ‘fingerprinting’ process, so it’s no surprise that the ad companies are concerned about iCloud Private Relay.

What's more, Private Relay comes to join forces with App Tracking Transparency, a feature introduced with iOS 14.5 to prevent apps from tracking users without asking permission. 

What this means for performance marketers

This move will affect many performance marketing disciplines, from email marketers measuring Gmail open rates to mobile app marketers looking at app installs from Facebook. 

As iPhones around the world switch to iOS 15 , overnight Apple is turning off a huge number of digital touchpoints and going more privacy-centric. Performance marketers will no longer be able to use third-party data from other sources like Facebook. It's going to be blocked. 

This means that it is more important than ever for  brands to get first party data back from the consumer.

The overall impact of Apple's privacy updates on marketers will depend on how many of its millions of customers use the services. The disruption could be huge, considering that the iPhone has an estimated market share of 47% in the US smartphone market.

Combating this will involve a mix of back to basics (creating content good enough to get customers to give you their data directly) and smart analytics techniques such as creating lookalike audiences on Android or setting benchmarks for the existing iOS audience before the change comes into place.

Of course, we’ll have to wait and see exactly how the iOS 15 update changes the landscape of performance marketing. In the meantime, teams need to prepare for a more privacy centric marketing landscape in the months and years to come.