What does the iOS 14.5 app tracking transparency update mean for you?

Ever had that feeling your phone knows you too well when you’ve just been looking at a new pair of sneakers, and then it pops up in an ad? It isn’t because your phone is your BFF, but because many apps don’t just track your movements whilst you’re using them, they also track your activities outside of the app. This is why you see ads in other places for the sneakers you were literally just browsing.

Before this latest update, you could still turn off app tracking by going to Settings > Privacy > Tracking and turning off “Allow Apps to Request to Track.” However, the new iOS update essentially flips this dynamic on its head. When you install a new app, you’ll be asked to opt-in rather than out of tracking with the rollout of a new feature called, somewhat aptly, App Tracking Transparency.

Facebook (the most high-profile firm to publicly challenge this update) and Apple have exchanged a series of increasingly hostile remarks about this new dynamic. Apple’s senior vice president of software engineering said that our “devices are so intimately a part of our lives and contain so much of what we’re thinking and where we’ve been and who we’ve been with that users deserve and need control of that information.”

Facebook claims that the changes are a Trojan horse for Apple to promote its own services: “Apple’s new prompt is designed to present a false tradeoff between personalized ads and privacy; when in fact, we can provide both. Apple is doing this to self-preference their own services and targeted advertising products. (...) Personalized ads support small businesses and keep apps free.”

Each player has identified a genuine consumer concern. Users have been asking questions about how their data is used for a while now, which many large tech firms were perceived as reluctant to address. On the other hand, if revenue streams collapse because too many users pull their data, we could see a series of paywalls emerge on the internet, restricting the free flow of information in a way we’ve not seen before. For app developers, advertisers, and social networks, it’s definitely been an implementation headache.

So what can you do with the new update, and what does it mean?

Option 1: Allow Tracking

This is voting to continue with the status quo. Not much will change.

Pros: 

Relevant ads - Remember the days when our social media feeds were full of pointless ads. “I don’t have a baby. I don’t even like babies! Why are you trying to sell me diapers?” With tracking, you’ll see things you might actually want to buy… like those sneakers!

Give local businesses a boost - Various social media ad tools allow small businesses to strategically advertise to people within range to visit their store, reducing ad spend waste that makes the service otherwise unaffordable.

Cons: 

That slightly spooky feeling when you open an app (how did they know I desperately want to book flights to the Maldives?!). Also, the very real possibility that you spend more than you intend during your midnight ice cream and impulse shopping spree because you’re shown so many things you love.

Option 2: Ask App Not to Track

This is your hands-off-my-data choice. Tapping this option will restrict apps from accessing your personal data and them that you don’t want to be tracked elsewhere.

Pros:

You have control of your data and ultimate device privacy.

Cons:

You will see a much higher proportion of irrelevant, often irritating ads. You will no longer receive information about more local, independent businesses (because your location data is off), meaning they will lose out to larger chains. Eventually, paywalls may emerge.

Whilst the initial uptake of opt-out might well be high as people enjoy the novelty of letting the big players know that they expect more transparency from now on, it could be reasonably short-lived as the irritation of ad-spam takes over, and we all remember why we developed personalisation in the first place. Whatever you decide, you can always change your mind. In the tracking section of your Privacy settings, you can adjust your choice for each app. 

For marketers, this will simply mean that influencer marketing is an even more important tool in your arsenal. 2021 will be the survival of the digitally fittest! 50% of us have ad-blockers on our devices, clicks on paid display advertising have crashed to an average of 0.47% even when you can reach the consumer, and with a short-term expect rise of cookie restriction, it is clear that brands no longer talk to consumers. So encourage consumers to talk to each other about brands! This is the fundamental psychology of trust: consumers prefer peer recommendations. And influencers are able to do this in a way that’s authentic, organic, relatable, and cookie free!