Digital Transformation Brand Strategy Future of Media

Apple’s iOS 15: ‘Enhanced user privacy to the detriment of marketers & publishers’


By Kendra Barnett, Associate Editor

September 17, 2021 | 8 min read

The iOS 15 update is set to roll out to Apple devices beginning Monday. It will introduce a handful of new features that give users greater control of how their data is used – and will make targeted advertising trickier. The Drum talks to seven top agencies about what marketers need to know about these impending changes.

iPhone screen updating

Agencies weigh in on what marketers should know ahead of Monday’s iOS 15 release

At Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC) in June, the tech titan unveiled some of the new features built into its iOS 15 operating system update, slated to make its official debut on Monday. This included VPN access via the new Private Relay feature, anonymized email address generation for elevated inbox privacy and privacy ‘report cards’ for apps on a given device – which give users greater visibility into how various apps use their personal information.

Plus, earlier this month, we learned that Apple will begin asking users in the App Store if they’d like to receive targeted ads. Previously, all users were automatically opted in.

These updates add to a slew of privacy-focused changes introduced by Apple earlier this year, including the company’s App Tracking Transparency (ATT) framework. ATT requires user opt in before advertisers and developers are given permission to track their behavior across the web. Taken together, these changes are creating new hurdles for advertisers. In particular, these changes make it more difficult to gain a granular view of user behavior, which inhibits advertisers’ ability to serve targeted ads and measure the impacts of their efforts.

As users, developers and advertisers await the iOS 15 launch, here’s what top agency execs say marketers should be thinking about now.

Jess Simpson, senior vice-president of global identity and technology, Publicis Media

All of these changes signal a paradigm shift that the entire ad ecosystem needs to start really thinking about how they go to market. Legacy approaches to advertising and marketing technology simply won’t work in the future state. Brands and the ecosystems that support them need to innovate against new identity schemas that supersede just ID-based buying and tap into techniques such as artificial intelligence (AI) and natural language processing.

They also need to start thinking about measurement not just in terms of performance marketing, which is important but can have a cap size. In the absence of user-level data and signal-based measurement, we all need to be mindful about how we can get back to the basics of serving the consumer and building the personality of the brand. In some ways, Apple is moving us to this reality more quickly than we’d like, but innovation often comes from discomfort.

Loch Rose, chief analytics officer, Epsilon

Apple continues to implement features in the name of enhanced user privacy to the detriment of marketers and publishers. The roll-out of iOS 15 is no different: it limits the ability of publishers to support their business through advertising and inhibits marketers’ ability to deliver relevant, personalized messaging to their customers.

Each upgrade is a reminder that publishers must form close, consented relationships with their visitors, and marketers need to work with advertising partners that offer strong publisher connections if they are to continue activating effective, personalized messaging in a privacy-safe way.

Tim Woitkun, group media director, Cogniscient Media

This privacy-centric stance that Apple has instituted is a great initiative to allow consumers better control of their personal information. Many of Apple’s OS users probably still don’t know how nor where their information is being shared. However, based on the high adoption rate of iOS 14.5 and the high opt-out of cross-app tracking [through ATT] the last few months, they have put the power back in the hands of their users and put the pressure on the other tech titans to follow.

This does create a challenge for marketers and the individualized messaging opportunities we have grown accustomed to having available over the last few years. But with such challenges comes a great opportunity to take a step back and focus on the other ways to creatively communicate with consumers. Individual habits have changed throughout the last 18 months and that timing, in an oddly coincidental way, has been good for brands and agencies to self-reflect on strategies and the overall approach to communication. The focus shouldn’t be on the loss of individualized data, but rather finding a better way to talk to the users that want to be talked to.

Chris Weathers, vice-president of technology, Wunderman Thompson Apps

With the incoming releases of iOS 15 and Android 12 – and beginning even further back with the mobile OS updates from previous years – there’s been a clear trend: users are getting more visibility into how their apps work, and apps are getting less visibility into how their users work.

Users can granularly take control of how they are tracked by advertising and analytics services. Privacy dashboards will give users deeper insights into how their location, cameras, microphones and other hardware are being accessed. And network traffic reports will explicitly show users exactly which backend services their apps are interacting with.

In short, app users will become far more discerning about who they trust with their phones and data, and they’re now being handed the reins to take greater control of their apps than ever before.

Mike Whaley, managing director, mobile apps/emerging tech, VMLY&R

To date, all users’ first impressions of an app have been the same, regardless of the context of why they’re finding the app page in the App Store. They see the same screenshots and descriptions as everyone. With iOS 15, marketers can augment what they show users with over 35 different ‘custom product pages’. This way, if a user comes through a specific impression, topic or campaign, you can tailor what they see to what they find value in, hopefully increasing conversion based on the value for which they are looking.

Marketers should also be excited for the ability to test default pages with different icons and available marketing materials. [At VMLY&R] we’ve seen success with this in Google Play, and now that it’s available for Apple’s App Store, we can stop using assumptions based on other platforms as to what the general user finding us reacts best to.

Lastly, Apple’s App Store Connect is going to be more valuable from a marketing perspective, allowing a more in-depth checks-and-balances tool with other attribution partners. This helps marketers make smarter presentation decisions to make sure they’re finding the right users and the right users are finding them.

Peter Vandre, chief analytics officer, Dentsu’s US media service line

As addressability changes, auditing campaigns for specific data targeting and measurement related to iOS 15 will be important. For all Apple products, [it will be crucial that marketers are] monitoring results pre- and post-iOS launch to pivot if necessary and continue to lead as we move toward a privacy-first future. If you rely heavily on IP addresses for geotargeting or utilize CRM data for search remarketing, you should pay particular attention to this update.

Jennifer Mandeville, director of media strategy, Merkle

With iOS 15, Apple seemingly wants to be perceived as a proactive and transparent partner with app store users, allowing them to feel they have a choice when choosing ad viewing and data collection – while taking accountability for partner sharing and collection as well. Apple’s message [in the App Store] that opting into targeted advertising will “help you discover apps, products and services that are relevant to you” is interesting and feels like it plays directly into a psychological mindset of the consumer. While consumers may want to believe this, many will likely question if this is really the case and want even further proof of transparency.

The impact will take different forms based on each market player. From an advertiser or vendor level, the impact will be more serious as this will require partners to mirror what Apple is doing. Making sure all partners have the right infrastructure, process and legalities in place will be key for Apple, but may also be an issue for some partners.

For more, sign up for The Drum’s daily US newsletter here.

Digital Transformation Brand Strategy Future of Media

More from Digital Transformation

View all


Industry insights

View all
Add your own content +