What Apple's App Tracking Transparency Means for Marketers

When Apple released iOS 14.5 the other day, it included a new feature—App Tracking Transparency (ATT)—a win for privacy advocates, and a concern for advertising-based businesses like Facebook. Indeed, the move was seen as a shot across the bow in a brewing rivalry between Apple’s Tim Cook and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg. Elsewhere, nine industry associations representing companies including Facebook filed an antitrust complaint with Germany’s competition regulator to protest the feature.

So what does this mean? Apple has barred apps from using an Apple device identifier, a unique code assigned to our iPhones that can track our activity across apps and websites. The significant thing about this development is that the app will now explicitly ask users for their consent. This means that even if apps continue to invade user privacy, a precedent has been set for their transgression—and failure to comply will give Apple pretense to ban apps from the Apple Store.

Facebook has claimed this move will hurt small businesses, but it should be hailed for the privacy it returns to its users. ATT does not mean that advertisers will lose all their potential customers, it simply means a greater emphasis must be placed on building brand trust.

What are opt-in rates like?

Mobile attribution company AppsFlyer says early data suggests that opt-in rates could be as high as 39%. Elsewhere, Forbes reported on a survey conducted by Singular which found that 38.5% of users planned to opt-in. Further, AppsFlyer reported that the median opt-in rate was 29%, meaning a significant number of users across demographics which “demonstrates that many users are willing to opt-in to tracking for the sake of an improved user experience, and apps can convince users to do so.”

Ars Technica reported on May 7th that analytics data published by Flurry showed that only 4% of US users opted-in within the first few weeks of weeks of Apple’s release of iOS 14.5, compared to 15% globally. But another report released on May 24th showed that only 64.28% opted out—still a majority, but a much smaller one.

Indeed, these numbers will fluctuate—partly because of changing behavior as this feature reaches a larger audience, and due to different metrics for modeling. For example, AppsFlyer noted in its analysis of opt-in rates, they only counted those they were confident had seen the prompt, were a broad demographic of consumers (as opposed to savvy early iOS adopters who rejected tracking) and had not already activated an earlier ad-blocking feature called LAT. Within these metrics, they found that 14% of users opted-in globally, and were higher in some countries than others such as India (22%), Germany (20%), and South Korea (18%).

Furthermore, this data is based on a 17% rate of implementation by apps on the Apple Store. Many are holding off to see what dominant trends emerge. All of this is to say that there are many uncertainties about the long term effects of this feature, but one short-term goal should be building brand awareness and trust.

How to navigate these changes

Shani Rosenfelder of AppsFlyer offered advice to marketers on how to build trust with those users who opted in to tracking. He said that a big priority should be getting out ahead of Apple’s ATT prompt. App developers should find a way to ask for the permission themselves, highlighting that they will use the information to deliver a more personalized experience, and won’t use the data for anything outside of that goal.

Most importantly, now is a time to place emphasis on branding. The stronger your customer's brand affinity, the more likely they will be to understand the benefits of opting in for a more personalized experience. Branding driven campaigns can increase trust and therefore improve opt-in rates.

Lastly, it is important to note that those who opt-in will become an even more valuable source of attribution. While companies work to increase their attractiveness as brands worthy of tailoring the consumer experience, those that have already opted-in represent a valuable remarketable demographic whose data will provide valuable insights.

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