Apple’s App Tracking Transparency: What This Means for Marketing

Now, if you’re into data (and I know you are), you’re probably aware of Apple’s App Tracking Transparency (ATT) policies, which rolled out as part of the iOS 14.5 update. And for those of you who are not (and who have the fortune of not owning an iPhone), the ATT feature prompts iPhone and iPad users to opt in or out of data tracking across apps and websites.

Sounds simple, right? But this ability to deny any tracking of user activity has raised a bushel of questions about how Google advertisers can navigate this new space. Google even suggested that key metrics showing how ads drive conversions, like app installs and sales, might be affected by this privacy update.

There is no question that this is absolutely a win for user privacy (jokes a side, good work Apple), but is this change for better or for worse? And how will it impact advertisers? Let’s take a deep dive and get you up to speed.

What exactly is this ATT thing?

Apple first introduced ATT as part of its iOS 14.5 update, which rolled out on April 26, 2021. This privacy feature has revolutionized the way data tracking across apps and websites is handled. In a nutshell, it prompts iPhone and iPad users to choose whether they want to opt into data tracking. Google advertisers, in particular, are feeling the tremors of this shift, given the potential implications for their advertising strategy and conversion metrics.

The Google camp has been quite vocal about these changes, even issuing a statement back in January warning that this privacy update could significantly impact the visibility into key metrics that show how ads drive conversions.

“Apple’s ATT changes will reduce visibility into key metrics that show how ads drive conversions (like app installs and sales) and will affect how advertisers value and bid on ad impressions. As such, app publishers may see a significant impact to their Google ad revenue on iOS after Apple’s ATT policies take effect.”

Christophe Combette, Group PM, Google Ads

This new reality could consequently affect how advertisers value and bid on ad impressions. Naturally, these concerns have led to a flurry of questions and a fair amount of uncertainty.

Privacy overlords, generated by Bing Creator.

However, in the wake of Apple’s App Tracking Transparency (ATT) policies, which took effect on 26th April 2021, this data tracking system has seen a significant shift. The ATT policy is essentially a privacy measure designed to give users more control over their data. It mandates that apps ask for users’ permission before tracking their data across apps or websites owned by other companies.

As a result of this policy, Google has stopped sending the GCLID for iOS 14 traffic and adjusted their collection scheme to not reply on Apple’s Identifier for Advertisers (more on this below) – information that, under the new ATT policy, would require explicit user consent. To ensure compliance with Apple’s guidelines, Google has decided not to use this information and hence won’t display the ATT prompt in these specific apps.

The Big Picture: Who Does This Affect?

So, who is in the line of fire with this ATT update? Well, the answer is quite simple (and kind of scary): pretty much anyone and everyone who uses the IDFA. This includes big players like Google and Facebook, as well as retailers and a host of other organizations.

Now, if you’re unfamiliar with the term, IDFA (Identifier for Advertising) is a unique identifier attached to every iOS device. It’s essentially the key that allows developers and marketers to track user activity for advertising purposes – you can think of it like a driver’s license ID but for your device. With ATT in place, when a user opens an app that uses the IDFA, they are greeted with a pop-up window warning them that the app tracks their data for advertising purposes and offering them the option to block this tracking. It’s worth noting that app developers have some leeway in customizing the text within the pop-up, although they have to stay within the space limitations.

This brings us to a significant concern for organizations using Google Ads: the impact on their advertising campaigns. The reality is that the full scope of the impact is still somewhat of an unknown. Much will depend on the number of users who choose to opt out of tracking. If a large number of users decide to take this route, retargeting audiences will inevitably shrink, and prospect targeting could become less granular.

Stopping the data hungry giants, generated by Bing Creator

However, it’s important to note that this doesn’t mean ads will disappear from iPhones entirely. They will still appear, but the level of targeting could potentially be limited. Users who allow tracking will continue to receive targeted ads based on their activity. Meanwhile, those who choose to opt out will still see ads, but these won’t be specifically tailored to their behavior.

As for how Google is dealing with the ATT update, the tech giant seems to be playing nice with Apple’s rules. Google has stated it will switch to another Apple tool called SKAdNetwork. Introduced by Apple in March 2018, this tool offers a more privacy-oriented approach to campaign measurement. Additionally, Google continues to make strides with its Privacy Sandbox technology to reduce their reliance on high-cardinality identifiers such as IDFA which, by their nature, are of concern when it comes to privacy.

Final Thoughts

Looking ahead, there’s a lingering possibility that Apple might extend ATT to Mac OS, although this is still speculative. However, one thing remains certain: there’s no need to halt advertising on Google. Google remains committed to fostering a thriving ad-supported digital ecosystem (and, let’s be real, making money). Adapting to the new normal is the key. The ATT update and the ensuing changes are part of a larger evolution in the advertising market, and the ability to adapt, rather than retract, will be the hallmark of successful advertising efforts.

So, what’s the takeaway from all this? ATT, like many tech updates, requires some recalibration from advertisers and marketers. But it’s all part of an evolving landscape where privacy and user choice are gaining prominence. Remember, staying informed, being adaptable, and, above all, remaining open-minded are your best tools in this ever-changing digital age.

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🎉 Nice work, that was a long article!