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Apple’s App Tracking Transparency - what it means for your business

Tom Riglar

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Mon Sep 20 2021 - 3 min read

If you’re building an app to run on Apple’s iOS and you want to collect data from your users, you’ll need to make sure it complies with their App Tracking Transparency framework. There’s no way around that.

Sounds pretty clear-cut, right? But what exactly does that mean, and what impact will it have on you getting the data you need for your business?

What is Apple’s app tracking framework?

Before we get into what the implications are for your business, we need to back up a bit and talk about why we’re asking the question to begin it. So bear with us, we’ll try not to get too technical.

Before, apps could track data using an IDFA, or Identifier for Advertisers. IDFAs are basically like cookies but for your phone’s operating system, and they allow companies to track things like app usage and where installations come from.

That’s great news for brands who need to create specific advertising profiles for their customers. But it’s not so hot for users worried about third-party companies seeing everything they do on their phone.

That’s why Apple has been phasing out IDFAs and replacing them with their new SK Ad Network. Now, iOS users will have to actively consent to having their phone data tracked. And not many of them are - currently only around 39% of users are saying yes, and we don’t think that number is going to go up any time soon.

What does that mean for my app?

Obviously, greater privacy and trust for users is always a good thing. But there’s no denying it also makes things more difficult for businesses that depend on data collection.

By far the biggest implication is on tracking attribution. Knowing what triggers your users’ app downloads is essential to figuring out where to direct your advertising budget. But SK Ad Network only provides high-level data, not specifics, so it can’t tell you if you’re getting more from your Facebook or Instagram campaign. That means you’ll have to rely on broadstroke assumptions instead.

And of course, then there’s the effect on targeted ads. Without the depth of data an IDFA can provide, you’re going to struggle to build up the kind of accurate advertising profiles we’re used to seeing. A lot of brands have come to rely on targeted ads thanks to all that data making them so effective, so unless they can adapt to a new way of working, they might be left out in the cold.

Just to be clear, the end of IDFAs doesn’t mean you won’t have any data to work with at all. You can still get plenty from within your app, like tracking what buttons users are pressing or what pages they’re visiting, so you can still use that to determine future iterations.

But anything outside your domain like data from the operating system is out of reach, so you aren’t always getting the data you need as a startup.

So, what’s the answer?

Losing access to IDFA tracking is a pain, but it’s not necessarily the end of the world for your app. To begin with, IDFAs have only been dropped by Apple so far. Android’s equivalent (AAID) is still in use so you’ve still got access to that data from over half the devices on the market.

For iOS devices, there are workarounds as well like AppsFlyer and Branch. Instead of getting exact attribution from a device’s unique ID, they’ll use machine learning to match up click impressions from ads with when your app is launched on a device for the first time to get a probability-based estimate of which ads are prompting installs.

The results won’t be as dead-on as if they came from an IDFA. But they’re pretty close - AppsFlyer claim their probability modelling has an accuracy rate of 92%.

The flip side to these solutions is that implementing them does make things trickier. If you want to take advantage of the AAID support on Android, you’re going to need platform-specific code so your app can do it while complying with Apple’s framework on iOS.

Not only that, but when you’re setting up a service like AppsFlyer or Branch along with the APIs to talk to both Android and iOS frameworks, it can get pretty complex, pretty fast. It’s almost always best to get someone who’s been through the process before. That way, you can be sure you’re getting the right data without having to wrap your head around the painful tech behind it.

The privacy movement is still going strong, so measures to restrict tracking probably won’t stop with IDFAs. Brands need to get on board, understand the implications and ask how they can get the data they really need without compromising on their users’ privacy.

To see how Morrow can help you navigate attribution and app tracking solutions, don’t hesitate to get in touch.

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