Brace for impact: iOS 14 privacy update to affect industry, read what MDA thinks

This article was published by MARKETING Magazine in collaboration with the Malaysian Digital Association, Mediabrands and Rev Media Group. Credit for information gathering to Rev Social’ Chief Strategy Officer, MDA Council Member,Chris Wee and Head of Annalect, Omnicom Media Group, Daler Kendzhaev. Source gathering and writing by Director of Strategy & Digital, Mediabrands and MDA Council Member, Aparna Krishnan. Co-written by MARKETING Magazine Chief Content Officer, Vasuki Rao.

In 2019, just a few days before the most influential tech event in the world, CES, kicked-off in Las Vegas, Apple placed a massive billboard in the city. The privacy-billboard was simple and straightforward, it depicted the rear end of an iPhone with the sentence “What happens on your iphone, stays on your iphone”, slapped beside the phone. Underneath the phrase was a link to Apple’s privacy website. 

Aside from the obvious play on ‘What happens in Las Vegas stays in Las Vegas,” the tech giant also used this opportunity to announce that the soon-to-come privacy update with iOS 14 would include a heightened user’s right element.

And so in late 2020 Apple announced its choice to build adieu to the default IDFA.

What does this technically mean?

To understand what this update technically means, let’s first establish what IDFA is. It stands for the Identifier for Advertisers,  a resettable unique identifier assigned to each mobile device by the operating system. 

These identifiers are birthed in the OS and they track users behaviour on their iPhone across the various apps that they use. In previous iOSes these anonymized IDFA’s were by default shared with mobile advertisers who used the relayed user data to tailor personalized ad experiences.

But with the iOS 14 update, Apple will give users the choice to block the IDFA. In simple terms, users get to decide if they want to ‘opt-in’ to sharing their behavioural data in return for personalized ad experiences or not.

This monumental move of treating privacy as a user right has set off absolute mayhem within the advertising and marketing ecosystem.

What does this mean for businesses?

For businesses, this means they will be required to include a so-called ‘nutrition label’ that clarifies how their apps collect and store data on their app description page. 

All apps used on an iOS 14 device will be required to ask permission from users explicitly to track them or access their IDFA via the App Tracking Transparency Framework (ATT – a simple prompt). Whats setting off the panic alarm is the fact that industry experts expect user opt-in rates to be low.

Since IDFA is also used for attribution, brand safety, ad measurement and even by Data Management Platforms(DMP) to build audience segments which can then be imported to Demand Side Platforms (DSP) for activation; the entire ecosystem is bracing for impact.

How are the giants in advertising reacting?

Facebook has decided to comply with Apple’s privacy settings by choosing to show its own prompt educating users about the benefits of personalized ads prior to the Apple prompt. 

Google on the other hand, has chosen to cease collecting and using the IDFA in its own iOS apps that currently do so for advertising purposes. Instead, it will be switching to SKAdNetwork API, another Apple tool for ad tracking.

But Google isn’t the only one doing so. 

In line with moving on to an alternative, Apple’s SKAdNetwork API is gaining popularity – Mobile ad networks are in talks with Apple and apps are being configured to work with Ad networks. Publishers are also trying to give feedback to improve the much criticized SKAdNetwork.

And against all of the above, Marketers and agencies are splitting hairs trying to predict the impact on ROAS. 

In this cascade of major and technically adept events that shook the digital advertising industry (all this while we are still awaiting a formal release date from Apple!), the Malaysian Digital Association (MDA) pondered on the important questions: 

  1. Being a 20% iOS market(Source – GlobalWebIndex), what is the impact of this feature update in Malaysia? 
  2. With 1 in 4 Malaysians resorting to ad blockers because of their frustration with personalized ads (Source – GlobalWebIndex)– should we expect massive opt-outs?

To get some answers, MDA conducted a snappy social dipstick* amongst Malaysians. These are a few highlights of what MDA learned from the dipstick: 

*The methodology for MDA’s social dipstick: The survey was conducted via the Facebook and Instagram pages of the following platforms: Technave, Says, Oh Bulan, Seismik, Thelaki, Berita Harian, NST and IGN. Charts 1 & 2 reflect data collected from these platforms’ Instagram pages and Charts 3 & 4 reflect data collected from these platforms’ Facebook pages.

Chart 1

Ironically consumers are blissfully unaware of the iOS 14 update, a shocking 56% had never heard of it.

Chart 2

The aware are superaware – more than 50% of respondents were aware that the iOS14 update advocates privacy controls in the hands of users.

Chart 3

People are hedging their bets. The uproar on data privacy has put people on a cautious footing and so more than 40% of people are feeling protective about their data

Chart 4

Not all words translate into action. While caution dominates people’s minds and 40% declared that they will switch to privacy friendly apps ; Chart 4 shows that there exist a 45% of consumers who do not read T&Cs and data labels. 

What do the industry professionals think?

Against this ‘consumers in a parallel universe’ backdrop, MDA also reached out to some advertisers, publishers and agencies and posed two simple questions to understand their take on the situation:

  • How and what is the impact of the iOS14.3 privacy update on your business?
  • According to you, what are the 2 ‘must-dos’ in this situation?

The following are some of their responses:

1. Keni Kamaludin, Head of Consumer Marketing, CIMB

“It implies that consumer privacy is not a lost cause as with the recent WhatsApp debacle. It also means the permission based marketing is the way to go.”

“Encourage transparency and disclosure in the way we collect and use data where through sharing and collaboration with internal stakeholders.”

2. Eric Ng, Performance Specialist Manager, SearchGuru

“Due to limited data from iOS users, we foresee a slight shift of ad dollars from direct response to brand campaigns. As a business, we see this as a great opportunity to innovative new ways of marketing to iOS users.”

“Measure the potential data loss whether it’s conversions or audience. E.G. Hong Kong & Singapore both have higher iOS user percentage of 44% and 36% respectively compared to the rest of Asia at 16%.
‘(Also) Prepare experiments to test and learn by having dedicated campaigns for iOS 14 users. Learnings here will be invaluable for a more privacy focused future..”

3. Donne Maniago, Digital Manager, Carat Malaysia

“The update may severely limit the way brands build meaningful relationships with audiences because they cannot optimize their value offering based on important online events that are not captured anymore”

“For performance marketers, they need to assess how valuable their iOS base is to potentially gauge the impact. Be flexible to adapt to new opportunities as the update rolls out”

4. Prateek Roy, Product Director, Mudah.my

“User privacy is of the utmost importance for us at Mudah.my. We welcome initiatives that help us better protect our users and at the same time allow us to serve our users better. We use behavioural data to improve our user’s experience by offering them content which is and will be relevant to them in the near future. The iOS update will not only impact Mudah.my but all apps on iOS and will be definitely a part of our plans.”

“The two must do’s in my opinion is to, firstly be fully transparent with our users and secondly prepare for the new norm and evolution of user privacy policies. This means understanding what we collect and why we collect the information and how we can better protect it.”

5. Kang Yew Jin, Chief Operating Officer, Star Media Group

“On December 8th 2020, Apple enforced the need for developers to have a “nutrition label”. These are privacy “labels” that should give one a better idea of what’s going on inside an app before one downloads it from the iOS App Store or Mac App Store. The labels will list what information an app collects, and present that visually on the app page, much like looking at the backs of labels in a grocery store.
As for the iOS14.3 privacy updates, there is no explicit date that Apple has confirmed when this will be enforced. Once they do it, we believe the impact is limited. Th is is because when we analyze our entire audience base, only 1.5% are app users and out of that small universe, 55% are on iOS.
Therefore we feel that the impact is limited to us..”

“Once iOS14.3 privacy is enforced, then Apple will no longer use IDFA to track. IDFA has been widely used for tracking and advertising. This will mean that we will have to rely on first party data to perform tracking.
The shift to collecting first party data, coupled with the encouragement to register when using our apps and sites will increase the ability to continue tracking.”

6. Facebook, Global

Facebook shared their global view on the situation here.

What does MDA recommend?

Opting-in to data collection, rather than having to opt-out of data collection is a move that rightfully puts the user on the pedestal and is what regulations like GDPR and CCPA are also advocating for. 

However, it can’t be denied that in today’s tech controlled social order and in the cut-throat race to lead on the share prices tally, this ‘user first business second’ philosophy can be fiddled with for power play. The question for marketers is how do you take charge in this context and avoid being the paper caught in a storm?

Below are a few considerations penned by MDA:

For advertisers

  1. With the size of addressable audiences dwindling under the mercy of market forces; now more than ever, it is important for advertisers to evaluate and build consumer identity strategies. Brands will need a clear strategy to store, protect and transact identities that can ingest a variety of data types and also stay relevant with time.
  2. Re-assess your tech stack and data strategy and focus on strategic alliances with innovative data products
  3. Owning the consumer journey end to end and keeping it within the brand asset is imperative to gaining control on data. This move can help to house and farm enough data that can in the future even power advertising, thus making brands self-reliant. 
  4. Building a brand and improving the quality & effectiveness of advertising in the long run becomes essential again instead of over-reliance on ‘efficiency’ metrics (CTRs, CPCs etc)
  5. As this is going to only get complex, consider building internal expertise, embed specialist skills around data management and insource key capabilities

For publishers

  1. Right away, the first hit rung of publishers will need to take necessary operational steps be it in terms of ad setups, attribution methodologies or tracking. Building a clear custom test-learn roadmap would also aid publishers in identifying the tricks/hacks/codes for the categories that they work on
  2. Strategically now would be an opportunity in disguise for local publishers operating in the content space. This will be the time to let their first party data usher in chunks of the direct response budgets. This will also be the right time for them to relook at the value exchange model that they are operating in and ensure there is a win-win relationship with their content subscribers. 
  3. Publishers need to take a deep, hard introspective look at themselves and formalize the spaces that they must operate in which will drive self-reliance. Contextual advertising, influencer capabilities, shoppable ads, content marketing etc will probably become must haves in the offering kits of the survivor publishers.

For agencies

  1. Agencies must evaluate the opportunity cost of the iOS user base for each of their clients. Set against the same, they must demonstrate exemplary channel planning and executional craft (especially on platforms like facebook) to minimize performance loss.
  2. Agencies must not lose sight of the fact that in the long-term, audience planning alone will thrive. In that context re-evaluating strategies, not succumbing to deflating CPMs, collaborating with high quality publishers, building SDK partnerships and sourcing custom data partnerships to offset will bring about a monumental difference to returns on the marketing dollars spent.
  1. Agencies should start planning for future-proof concepts and build capabilities around data management, data science and leveraging data clean rooms

“The fact is how much ever we gaze at the crystal ball, only time will tell the real impact of Apple’s iOS 14 update,” MDA emphasises. “What we do know is as with most things in today’s landscape – now is the time to Act.” 

Founded in 2009, MDA is a representative body represent 66 companies which comprises digital publishers, platforms, advertising agencies, creative agencies and digital service providers. To learn more, visit https://www.malaysiandigitalassociation.org.my/

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