Apple’s iOS 14.5 and landed three weeks ago now, and with it they’ve introduced the App Tracking Transparency (ATT) framework, which is transforming the digital advertising landscape on iOS devices as we know it. We also still have the ‘death of the third-party cookie’ on Google Chrome to look forward to.
This pair of industry changes has been widely seen as being ‘anti-competitive’, as both further restrict the free flow of data that powers much of modern advertising, but they do so unilaterally. This means they don’t truly provide consumers with sufficient transparency or choice with their data, as many consumers may think opting out, means they won’t get served ads at all, but it really means they won’t see relevant ads.
As of May 13th, globally Blis was seeing 34% of people opting in to share their data at the ATT pop up prompt and 66% of consumers either opting out of letting the app share their personal data with other apps or using apps that have not been updated to support ATT, but the figures are changing daily. (You can keep up to date on the latest adoption and opt-in rates with Blis’ iOS 14.5 tracker, which is updated daily.)
Additionally, recent Blis research found that 78% of senior marketers are concerned or very concerned about the loss of cookies, while 61% feel the same about the reduction of IDFAs.
An industry inflection point
While it’s good to see Apple and Google taking a firm stance on consumer privacy, there are doubts over whether the pair will genuinely ‘walk the walk’ when it comes to privacy, as well as ‘talk the talk’.
What you can say about the changes is that, while they hurt everybody a little bit, they hurt everybody other than Apple and Google a lot more. As it stands, both of them are going to come out of this further ahead, so the industry is looking at the pair to hold themselves to the same standard that they’re trying to hold everyone else to.
Publishers must now gain permission from consumers to collect their app data for tracking, in accordance with Apple’s ATT framework. However, Apple is still allowed to serve targeted ads by default (which they are currently facing an antitrust complaint about in France).
Similarly, Google has said it won’t support universal IDs in its tech stack, but ironically, the Google identifier is itself a universal identifier, and we expect they’ll use their cross-site ID to connect what consumers do in the search space to the publisher sites they land on.
Universal IDs are ultimately just one solution among many and may or may not be the long-term way forward. They are essentially hashed identifiers, like emails, that are turned into numbers to make them anonymous. Then, when consumers login to a website this is turned into an ID. This could cause issues for consumers, because in the past, their ID was just a cookie that they could clear from within Chrome, however, opting-out of some of these universal IDs may be more opaque and difficult.
We believe the way forward is for the industry to focus on finding a better road to take, such as privacy-first technology that’s not based on consumer login credentials, identity fingerprints, third-party-cookies-pretending-to-be-1st-party cookies or any of the workarounds currently being floated.
So, what’s the solution?
There is still a lot of opted-in data that meets even the highest standards of consent out there, despite the regulatory and platform changes in the identity landscape. Many consumers understand the implicit value exchange of the Internet – the free content they consume is typically funded through advertising. Although the volume of this data is reducing, it can still influence large-scale media plans.
At Blis, we use the highly accurate, opted-in location data that is available to us – how people move around public places in the real world – and we combine it with a myriad of aggregated and anonymised behavioural and lifestyle signals, from lifestyle characteristics and affinities through to shopping habits, to build a rich, multi-dimensional picture of an audience. We can take people seen shopping at H&M, for example, and use data to learn what makes them unique or different to the rest of the population. We do this by comparing them to other brand, local, regional or national cohorts to identify differences in content consumption, sociodemographics, shopping behaviours and countless other anonymous factors. We can then compare media buying opportunities against these factors to find precise, differentiated audiences – all without requiring cookies, email addresses or any other identifier or personal data.
For the past decade, the industry has relied on cookies and IDs to reach consumers with tailored and personalised advertising. This privacy-first era will require the industry to move away from its previous dependence on this type of one-to-one personal data and find alternatives. Doing so will provide the opportunity to deliver campaigns based on lifestyle, behaviour and context. Universal IDs offer a starting point, but may not fully live up to consumer expectations around privacy.
The one thing that’s clear: for consumer privacy to be truly respected, the industry – from publishers to brands – needs to come together, embrace the changes that consumers and regulators are demanding and develop solutions that truly address the challenges at hand. If we can do this, the industry will be better for it.
By Aaron McKee, chief technology officer, Blis