Advertising Tracking Problems • Apple iOS 15


Wojtek Andrzejczak
Advertising Tracking Problems • Apple iOS 15

Every year we wait for the Apple WWDC conference to see how they will increase Privacy settings with the new iOS release. And this year, with iOS 15, they did their best to surprise everyone in the Advertising industry. So many positive vibes that it is imaginable.

What is new in iOS 15

  • Apple Mail to hide the IP address of the device it is accessed on, meaning that senders of marketing emails, for example, cannot track where an email is sent and whether it is read.
  • Apple’s web browser Safari will prevent any third parties from accessing a user’s IP address to block tracking.
  • iCloud subscribers will have the option to route Safari traffic through two internet relays, similar to a VPN, to hide their identity. In addition, the “hide my email” feature, first unveiled in 2019, will be extended to hide email addresses when signing up for several online services.

The End of the tracking

Without 3rd party cookies, without IDFA, without IP, with short live time 1st party cookies. Any advertising or marketing activity will be severely limited.

The only thing we have that is still reasonable to identify users is GPS location-based tracking (In-App only).

For all iOS/Safari users, in the context of campaign/conversion reporting, everything that we’ll be able to say is that we might have some conversions done here, probably.

How iOS 15 will affect digital campaigns

  • IP geo-targeting will be useless.
  • IP geo-targeting will work on country/region area, city, and smaller areas will not work (if you will be able to obtain IP address).
  • ISP/Carrier targeting, not sure, but it might not work as well.
  • Cross-Device/Cross-Environment will not work.
  • Fingerprinting used for conversion and user matching will be useless.
  • The conversions on iOS/Safari will be possible to track, but only when you use 1st party cookies in 1st party context, possibly.
  • Campaign optimization to any KPI? The only pixel placed directly on the campaign landing page will make sense.
  • Campaign retargeting? Not really.
  • Any KPI optimization? CTR, ads viewability

So what will be possible

  • GPS proximity targeting campaigns
  • Contextual targeting campaigns
  • Basic KPI’s like CTR, Click-To-Landingpage
  • Reporting conversions made up to 24h
  • Branding campaigns
  • Run of Site / Run of Network campaigns
  • Publisher programmatic deals based on the contextual targeting

But what about Machine learning? 

What about it? How do you want to match users about which we have no detailed information? Less relevant data you define, then even less relevant (random) data machine learning gives you.

Machine learning is an additional tool to help with an advanced matching of users or conversions, nothing more.

Conversions matched by machine learning do not give you a 100% level of confidence. Instead, they oscillate between 1-99%.

You can have in the reports 1.2 conversions done. It means that you could have 12 conversions with 0.1 conversions (10% level of confidence) or four conversions with 0.3 conversions (30% level of confidence).

What about Google FLoC?

Currently, it is in the development stage, but as far I see, it will be the only solution that could be integrated into Google Chrome. Unfortunately, other browser providers will not agree to integrate FLoC API.

FLoC’s idea relies on the fact that it will scan the whole user browser history to create a unique cohort profile.

In my opinion, it will not solve iOS/Safari tracking problems/restrictions. And with Apple privacy features, I’m not sure if Google solution will work in the Google Chrome browser on iOS.

What about alternative tracking solutions?

Apple said clearly. They don’t want anyone to track their users. Unfortunately, it means that every approach to find an alternative to track users will be blocked.

In the retrospection:

  • Apple introduces the Do Not Track me feature to Safari, but everyone ignores it.
  • Apple blocked 3rd party cookies. So Google/Facebook introduces a URL decorating solution (GCLID, DCLID, FBID – campaign tracking parameters) together with a 1st party tracking pixels implementation.
  • Then Apple limited 1st party Cookie life to 24h when the URL contained decorated with tracking parameters listed above. So, Google/Adobe introduces a server-side tracking for their tag managers with a domain Cloaking (we-track-you.example.com)
  • Then Apple restricted cloaking domains by restricting cookie lifetime again. 
  • Companies used a background GPS location (like Google Maps) to send GPS location information every few minutes to let advertisers identify where the user is located. So Apple restricts the use of GPS location only when the app is active.
  • Then Apple removed IDFA to cut cross-device and cross-environment tracking. So publishers and advertisers start using an in-app unique user ID, fingerprinting using IP, and email addresses when users sign into the app. Seems to be a good idea, right?
  • Then Apple declares to remove the IP address from apps and browsers and introduces advances dual-VPN solutions to mask user location. As a result, the user can not be identified on any app or browser, and his location is unknown. Additionally, users can now use randomly generated emails to sign in to multiple services to avoid identification.
  • The End.

The incentives for ‘innovation’ in the exploitation world are high, and so there is a lot of advancement in the art of tracking; a lot of advancement in the arts of security exploits. And so, in both areas, we think there’s going to continue to be a cat and mouse game. We think we bring a lot of tools to that fight, and we can largely stay ahead of it and protect our customers. But it’s something we recognize as a battle we will be fighting for years to come.”

Craig Federighi – read more

In other words:

Advertising Tracking Problems • Apple iOS 15
Advertising Tracking Problems • Apple iOS 15

Summary

With iOS 15, I think it is game over for the advertising industry to track users as we used to do in the past. But it does not mean we’ll not be able to deliver any ads. We will be able, but we need to align with Apple’s concept of keeping user privacy. And every attempt to break this concept will be useless as soon as Apple finds out about it.

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