New iOS – what’s new, and why Facebook hates it so much

Apple will officially issue the new version of its mobile operating system sometime in September. We already know quite much about the features introduced in the new iOS, including the redesigned widgets on the home screen, picture in picture (this will allow the use of apps while making a video call or watching a video), changes in messages (pinned conversation, ability to tag a person in group conversation) and many more. There will be really quite many novelties, and one of them triggers big controversies – developers will be required to get users’ permission to track their activity across apps and websites. This is yet another step Apple makes in giving consumers more control over how they share their data (over their data sharing and more transparency into how it is used.

What is it all about? Apple introduced IDFA (Identifier for Advertisers) in 2012, this 32-character code is assigned to each iPhone user (the cookies we know from sites and browsers don’t work in the mobile environment where people mostly use apps). This identifier is used to target, measure and optimize ad spend at the user level. It also allows to collect information about user activity, and enables the retargeting and creating the look-a-like profiles. Developers, publishers and mobile marketing providers are able to gather data about what the user does on their mobile (in different apps and mobile sites), and can use this knowledge to target and sell ads. In just a few weeks those opportunities may be significantly constrained. Every application that would use the IDFA code to collect information about the user will be required to ask for their permission to do so. It will be done via a pop-up screen shown when launching the app, and developers probably won’t have much influence on the copy of the message.

Industry experts estimate that only up-to 50% of users will opt-in (allow the tracking), and there are voices predicting that it is going to be even lower than this (up-to 20%). Actually, the IDFA change is not the first ad tracking constraint introduced by Apple – the company included Limit Ad Tracking (LAT) feature in iOS 13, and about 30% of users turned it on (they probably won’t even receive the new request for permission). Due to those changes, most of iPhone users may be beyond reach of targeted advertising, and the analysis of the user mobile behavior will be vastly limited or even impossible.

iPhone users will probably appreciate the Apple’s focus on providing more control and transparency over their behavioral data. Some publishers, developers however are not satisfied. And Facebook is surely not content either, as the current form of the IDFA is essential for their Audience Network to work properly on iPhones. Audience Network gives the enables the display of ads on inventory outside Facebook and Instagram. During the last investors’ call, the company’s leadership warned that changes announced by Apple would have negative impact on Audience Network, and in the statement issued last week they stated that developers and publishers using AN may see their ad revenue decline even by 50%. Facebook very clearly sided with publishers and developers, stressing that this change would be very damaging for them in an already challenging and difficult time. They also assured everyone that they are looking for ways to support partners and to find a solution to this issue. At the same time they suggested that changes made to IDFA may make Audience Network so ineffective on the new iOS that it would probably make no sense to maintain it in the future.

There is a chance that Apple heard developers’ opinions and would take them into consideration the rumour has it that iOS 14 could be introduced without changes made to IDFA. We don’t know yet what the final iOS version will include, but we have to be sure that Apple won’t back down from making user privacy and safety the key priority. Even if those changes related to tracking are not introduced this September, they will appear in one of the updates in the next few months.