Blog Apple killed IDFA

Apple killed IDFA

iOS 14 will require developers to explicitly ask users for permission to get access to IDFA. That's what Apple announced in June at the WWDC conference. This news immediately raised a wealth of questions regarding the future of in-app ads and the whole industry. Let’s make it clear what exactly Apple meant with this move and what scenarios may follow.

IDFA (The Identifier for Advertisers) is a unique identifier that Apple assigns to each device. The IDFA code allows marketers to configure precise targeting and track mobile advertising campaigns.

Note that IDFA is confidential and anonymous, almost like cookies. It is generated randomly and can be reset.

Why is IDFA so important? 

IDFA is an excellent method to track users. It provides data on what apps users visit, their activity over time and how they interact with ad campaigns. Developers and advertisers see bid requests from various apps to show ads to the same user. This allows them to build a comprehensive user portrait.

The user graph helps customize and personalize ads because the available data is precise enough to predict what they might be interested in and how often they would use this or that app.

What did Apple say?

Apps will no longer be able to send impersonal user data without their consent. So, it led to a little controversy: IDFA officially exists but for no purpose. Why?

Many experts predict that explicit user permission (opt-in notification) will exclude 70% of Apple users. It means that even though IDFA will technically be maintained, it will be disabled for the apps in which users tapped "No" in the notification. 

Such changes will affect not only large advertisers like Facebook and Google but also small companies that are going to face difficulties in setting up a relevant campaign.

What comes next?

There are various scenarios about how the in-app traffic market will react.

1. Some companies may use SKAdNetwork, the Apple framework, which anonymously tracks app installation. However, in this case, it's still uncertain whether they can apply retargeting if most users refuse to share their data.

This is an example of how Apple’s SKAdNetwork works:

2. Advertisers may be using Fingerprinting. This technology allows identifying and tracking a specific user by device configuration. Yet many companies don't trust this solution as it lacks precision and gives more room for fraud traffic.

Apple has made no statements regarding Fingerprinting. Meanwhile, Apple web policy prohibits Fingerprinting; thus mobile policy is likely to follow the same pattern. 

3. Apple will probably introduce a new API similar to Google Play Install Referrer to attribute installs to sources for App Store apps. To date, SKAdNetwork passes data only to an ad network and provides no access to third parties. However, a new API similar to SDK from Apple Search Ads or Google PlayStore Referrer can be that solution complying with privacy requirements and transparent for advertisers.

Today's attribution system will not change fundamentally, allowing MMPs, ad networks, and customers to continue working without any hindrance.

4. Some industry experts consider forcing users to accept IDFA or rewarding them for using it. It is an elegant idea, but not for all the apps. It looks quite reasonable for free games with in-app ads. A user either allows IDFA to track their data or buys a paid version with no ads. Such an approach, however, probably won't be approved by Apple. They may see it as an infringement of users rights. 

Any of the scenarios mentioned above is possible. Apple's next moves remain to be seen. They will most likely determine the future of in-app traffic. We will continue to follow the developments and keep you updated.

Expert opinions

Roman Kobozev, MarTech Projects Leader at OMD OM Group:

"In recent years Apple gradually develops the policy of greater user data privacy, often without taking into account the interests of advertisers. Apple’s Safari browser was the first to restrict the use of

3rd party cookies. The decision to limit the usage of IDFA falls into the same pattern. It will undoubtedly affect the mobile attribution market. I’m sure that Apple will actively develop its analytics centre for developers which will partly replace the familiar trackers."

Vladimir Hudyakov, CEO at by

"In recent months Apple is enlarging its ASA (Apples Search Ads) department and actively hiring people worldwide. Moreover, iOS 14 will feature a different way of user consent for Apple Ads, obviously far more user-friendly than the pop-up window. It means their platform takes a better position compared to others, presumably preparing to fight for its advertising market share. I wonder how Facebook and Google will react to it.

For programmatic platforms, it's an opportunity to strengthen their positions. Upcoming changes affect and equalize all market players, even SANs (self-attributed networks), as AEO and VO from Facebook. Some SSPs, for example, Fyber, have already proposed using SKAdNetwork for mobile DSPs and have started introducing more attributes for contextual targetings (like session depth). Without IDFA, SKAdNetwork will prevail in most cases. 

Advertisers have to accept this new reality where they need an opt-in to get IDFA. Still, I think mobile developers will come up with interesting algorithms capable of yielding more user consents. It's quite widespread around the web, especially In Europe and the US. Due to GDRP and CCPA, you can't read a single article without this consent on websites like the Washington Post. So I believe that in a couple of years a percentage of IDFA in bid requests will grow.

IDFV might be an alternative for large publishers. It's an identifier for vendors which enables tracking user activity in all apps without their consent. It's relevant for cross-promotion campaigns which in turn may increase the number of M&As among mobile publishers."

Artyom Sapogin, buying director at MGCom mobile department:  

"This new feature is a part of the overall global trend and addresses growing concerns for user data privacy. Once GDPR entered into force, it became clear that marketers are going to have a hard time adjusting to it.

We at MGCom were not surprised by this new iOS 14 feature. But indeed it is a challenge for us just as much as for every company in our industry. It’s pretty evident that as users update to iOS 14, the traffic will become more expensive because today’s infrastructure is based on IDFA while new solutions are far from perfection.

Attracting new customers with iOS 14 will be more expensive, and in the meantime, users who haven’t yet switched to iOS 14 will be in high demand.

Companies, in their turn, will have to come up with some new ideas on how to incentivize users to share their data. It also means that the market is set to change. Apple is putting heavy pressure on the market, but events of this year have shown that it can quickly adapt to changes.

When it comes to analytics as such, market players are forced to work with the tools approved by Apple. SKAdNetwork, in its current form, puts a particular strain on marketers’ efforts due to several reasons.

First, it allows tracking only campaign-level events. Second, a 24-hour attribution window makes it harder to work with products with a longer conversion window.

Anyway, I do believe that before iOS 14 official release, the key players on mobile analytics markets will develop a solution capable of overcoming these constraints."

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