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Advertising to & Tracking iOS 14 Users

Published 2020-Sep-4 |An icon depicting a retail tag with a heart for 'favourite'PrivacySocial MediaSocietySecurity

Watch the episode on YouTube

Ad-tech, digital marketing, and the surveillance economy are worth billions and billions of dollars. It all hinges on the ability to target ads and you can’t target ads without tracking users and their devices.

A privacy-focused design decision by Apple for iOS 14 puts Facebook on edge and Google on notice. What is the IDFA? What happens in iOS 14? And why you should care…all covered in this episode.

Index

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Transcript

[00:00:00]: Facebook is furious at Apple and lashing out at them online. Google is taking a different tact and trying to be subtle. Did Apple make a policy change? No, both companies are on edge due to a new feature in the upcoming iOS 14 release that will be deployed to millions of devices and impact the way that your device is tracked online. $330 billion were spent on digital ads in 2019. This matches the 330 billion spent on physical advertising in the same year. The volume of digital ads has been steadily increasing for years because of claims about their effectiveness. The sales pitch, digital ads can be customized and delivered to just the right audience an audience that is much more likely to respond to that ad.

[00:00:57]: Compare this with a physical ad, the Super Bow in the U.S. is the King of advertising opportunities for TV. A 32nd TV spot went for five and a quarter million dollars in 2019. The idea if you show your ad to the 98 million potential viewers of the event, a good percentage will be interested enough in what you've said to buy whatever it is that you're selling. Now, compare that with the possibility of ensuring that your ad is displayed to your target demographic. Instead of one third of the entire U.S. who are interested in a wide variety of things, get your ad in front of a few hundred thousand that have a demonstrated interest in what you're selling.

[00:01:39]: Now, in order to achieve this, a lot of technology is required in the backend. In fact, an entire industry is required. This industry, ad tech, digital marketing, whatever you wanna call it, has given rise to something called surveillance capitalism, an entire slice of the economy that makes money by knowing you, your interests and your behaviors. But what exactly is ad tech? Well, it's a combination of technology features and services that track you online. Did you ever wonder why you start seeing ads for sneakers everywhere after searching for new kicks on Google? That's ad tech in action. While there are layers of technology that go into ad tech, the foundation is identifying you and your devices. There's a number of techniques in play here. The most common of which is a cookie.

[00:02:32]: When web browsers were first designed, a decision was made to prevent the browser from accessing most of the local system. This was a very smart security focused decision. After all, you don't want a random website reading files from your hard drive. Now this type of isolation continues today, though some exceptions have been made over time. The earliest and the simplest of those exceptions is the cookie. A cookie is a small data file that is linked to a website. [00:03:00]: So when you visit that site, your web browser allows the site to read and write to that cookie. This is why you don't always have to log into a story each time you visit, why configuration choices on-sites are remembered and so forth. Ad tech abuses the intention of cookies to track you across multiple sites.

[00:03:19]: How do they do it? Well, a web page doesn't actually just come from one server. A typical webpage can request images, code, text, and other objects from any number of sites. By just loading this video up on YouTube, your browser made over 150 requests to a host of different sites. Some of this is to optimize performance. Some of it is to reduce data duplication. Ad tech uses this to track you across the internet. Now technology is constantly changing and over the past few years, your smartphone has become a critical data source to this industry. Approximately 77% of all Americans have a smartphone and here on YouTube, 70% of all the watch time comes from mobile devices. The impact of this on ad tech, well now design decisions that are made by Google with its Android platform and Apple with iOS have a significant impact on the ad industry and its ability to target users.

[00:04:17]: And it's a change that Apple has made in the upcoming iOS 14 release that has Facebook and Google on edge. Here's Facebook's message from a post entitled Preparing Our Partners for iOS 14, “We expect these changes will disproportionately affect audience network, given its heavy dependence on app advertising, like all ad networks on iOS 14 advertiser ability to accurately target and measure their campaigns on audience network will be impacted. And as a result, publishers should expect their ability to effectively monetize on audience network, to decrease. Ultimately, despite our best efforts, Apple's updates may render audience netainly corporate positioning. Cutting through the BS, Facebook isn't happy that Apple is undercutting their ability to track and target specific users on iOS 14.

[00:05:18]: Also, important to note, this is Facebook's SDK, which is not only impacting the Facebook app, but any app that uses that platform for sign-ins for comments or for data analytics. If you've never checked the off Facebook activity tab, uh, it's always enlightening. A surprising number of sites actually send uh, data about you back to Facebook. And while Facebook calls it a service, I call in another, in a long list of abuse of cookies. With respect to the iOS 14 update, Google had the following to say, “As part of iOS 14, developers may choose to employ the new app tracking transparency framework. If you choose to do so, we recommend [00:06:00]: implementing an explainer message that appears to users immediately before the ATT alert with details about how you use user dat

[00:06:13]: So what are these companies complaining about? They're complaining about something called the IDFA or identifier for advertisers. This is what's at the heart of this issue. Introduced way, way back in 2012 with iOS 6, the IDFA is a way that ad tech can track a device with the apps installed without actually knowing too much about that device itself. The IDFA says this is a unique device instead of this is Mark's phone. So if an app has a way of further identifying user, you can actually link those two to say that this is in fact Mark's phone versus my iPad. But the IDFA was created to reduce the abuse of unique identifying attributes on each device like serial numbers, cellular identifiers, things like that. It's a compromise that helps protect user privacy. In iOS 14, which will release this fall, apps now require explicit permission to access the identifier.

[00:07:15]: Previously, any app could get the IDFA and use it however they want it. Now users will have to grant explicit permissions for each app to use the identifier. This goes well beyond the existing toggles for limit ad tracking, which is a feature that only about 20% of iOS users have enabled uh, because most iOS users don't know it exists. If it's enabled limit ad tracking, prevents any app from getting the IDFA and that's still gonna be present in iOS 14. So the prompt will be a standard permissions request on the platform. This is the same type of request you're used to seeing uh, when an app wants to access your location, uh, if they want to access devices on your network, your photos, your camera, uh, and more.

[00:07:58]: Facebook is making the assumption that users will deny the permissions request, then block the Facebook SDK from accessing the identifier for advertisers. Because this is a critical aspect of Facebook's audience network targeting feature, they're essentially advising partners just to forget about tracking users on iOS 14. This is huge because iOS updates have a solid track record of being adopted quickly. More than 92% of eligible users upgrade to the new versions with a lot of those upgrades happening within the first month. This issue might feel like an obscure one that really doesn't impact you at all. And that's the insidious side of ad tech and data brokerages within the surveillance economy. A lot of it happens behind closed doors. So we aren't even aware of it.

[00:08:43]: at they really mean is we've gotten away with this for a while now, why are you complaining. The new permissions request in iOS 14 will shine some much needed light on this aspect of device tracking. [00:09:00]: Unfortunately it won't address cookie abuse, browser fingerprinting, or any of the multitude of other techniques ad tech actual uses. When you're upgrading to iOS 14, make sure that you turn on limit ad tracking and deny any requests to access the identifier for advertisers. It won't shut down ad tech, but it is a small step that you can take to protect your privacy and a signal that you don't want to be tracked with, or without your knowledge.

[00:09:27]: As is want to happen, as soon as I finished recording this, I was getting ready to upload and there was breaking news around this issue. Apple has decided to delay the implementation of the IDFA, um, notification in iOS 14 until early in 2021. Now their reasoning is because uh, this will give developers time to adjust their code to, uh, account for the new permissions prompt. However, when you look at the amount of effort required um, to do that, it's minimal, we're talking a few lines of code and a slight user flow to prompt uh, a user, whether or not they want this access.

[00:10:08]: So the real reason for this delay, isn't a technology driven it is business driven. A bunch of advertisers, a bunch of big, uh, developers, um, who bring in a lot of money into the Apple platform we're raising significant concerns. Now I think as users we need to ask why is that such a concern? This feature simply asks whether or not I as a user consent to you tracking me. So if all this was- was around ad tracking and your business model will fall apart, if somebody has actually asked, if they wanna be tracked, I think you need to reevaluate your business model more than delay this and raise a huge stick with Apple. So Apple is still very much an advocate for- for privacy, but I think this, um, example, this issue really shows that that has limitations as well. It's not just whatever's best for the user and forth.

[00:10:56]: There are still business concerns here as a user, as a privacy advocate, I think they should be enforcing right away. Um, this feature was announced in June, development teams have had plenty of time, plenty of access to the Beta Software to update their code and to adjust just because there's pushback, this is what it takes to wind back the intrusions on our privacy, because this hasn't been discussed, because of this hasn't been brought out into the light, we are having to pull things back, to claw it back, um, and that it takes a- a stand. It takes, um, you know, a sturdy spine to push this forward.

[00:11:29]: Apple typically has uh, taken that stance in this case. They're softening a bit, which I don't think as a user when I understand it from a business perspective, but as a privacy advocate, I want this enabled right away. You should too. In the meantime, you can enable limit ad tracking within your, um, iOS settings, uh, that has been there for quite awhile. That will have a much the same effect. However, it still doesn't cover the breadth that the IDFA does. So there is a partial solution now, but we need this full solution as soon as possible. [00:12:00]: Um, hopefully Apple, uh, backtracks on the backtracking and enables it right at the launch of iOS 14. As always, uh, check in the comments below and I'll keep you up to date as this issue evolves.