In September 2020, Apple announced the iOS 14 update to the public. With improved user experience through personalized screen designs, app library organization, and updated messaging functions (to name a few), the software update also comes with impending policy changes that will have a significant impact on conversion tracking for Facebook advertisers. Some of these updates have already been implemented while the rest will come to fruition throughout February 2021. In the meantime, Facebook and advertisers alike are taking action to plan ahead to mitigate any impediments instituted by Apple’s update.

The iOS 14 Update

In an age where privacy versus tracking is widely contested, Apple is now enforcing that developers clearly outline all information regarding their privacy practices in App Store Connect. With apps that include advertising or analytics SDKs, developers will also need to disclose what data these third parties collect, the usage of the data, and whether the data will track users. In short, all apps in the App Store will include a prompt to inform users that an app can and will track users if they agree. Apple has called this the AppTrackingTransparency (ATT) framework. The ATT framework is two-fold: to make users aware of what an app will track before installing it, followed by permission opt-in for tracking upon download.

Benefits for iOS 14 Users

The good news for users is that they now have control over their tracking settings. Historically, users have had a general awareness of their device’s ability to track and gather data, but for the most part, this information has been buried. With the discretion to approve or disapprove the tracking prompt and control how ads are delivered to users’ devices, Apple attempts to eliminate any form of deceit and what some users may perceive as privacy violations.

Implications for Facebook Advertising and the iOS 14 Update

For Facebook, having complete transparency over tracking regulations has drastic implications for advertisers on the platform and their approach to conversion tracking. This is because Facebook relies heavily on user information to build reports on actions or purchases from ads and creating and delivering remarketing ads to these audiences. The lack of this data disrupts Facebook’s approach to advertising. 

For example, if users opt-out of data tracking on the Facebook app alone, this will disable Facebook from collecting data from that person and their device. To further add to the equation, Apple is also implementing a new protocol called Private Click Measurement (PCM) for apps and websites. Apple has announced that PCM allows advertising networks to better attribute ads that display within apps on these platforms. Ultimately, the PCM attribute restricts data sharing across platforms to preserve user privacy. Typically, websites are made with several third-party sources that are designed to track users as they browse the web for retargeting purposes and measuring the effectiveness of ad campaigns. PCM prevents this tracking from taking place, as the attribute does not support app-to-web conversion measurement or cross-domain measurement. The implications are that advertisers, including Facebook itself, will lose access to these metrics.  

In addition to the impact on Facebook’s ability to measure the effectiveness and performance of ad campaigns, the tech giant has also stated that the policy updates will further diminish user experience on the platform, as ads will have less ability to tailor messaging to the right audiences. Facebook has also asserted that apps that rely on advertisers to support free content will be harmed by these updates and that free apps may disappear entirely, while the cost of paid apps will likely increase.

The Effects on Measurement

Directly affected from the iOS 14 policy update will be Ads Manager, Ads Reporting, and the Ads Insights API. Facebook has outlined that 28-day attribution of any kind will not be supported and that historical data will only be available via the API. Additionally, 7-day view-through attribution will be removed, while 7-day click attribution remains available. 

Offsite conversion events will also be affected. Reports will no longer identify delivery vs. action breakdowns and reported conversions can only pinpoint when the conversion occurred rather than when the ad impression took place. That said, advertisers can still target their ads based on demographic and geographic information, but they will not see a reporting breakdown of these segments. 

Aggregated Event Measurement

In response, Facebook is implementing its Aggregated Event Measurement (AEM) protocol that will allow for measurement conversions from iOS 14 users. Facebook has asserted that AEM is “analogous to Apple’s Private Click Measurement, but is designed to solve for key advertiser use cases not addressed by Apple’s proposal.” This means that advertisers can still successfully run ads through Facebook, measure off-site conversions, and in the coming months, Facebook will work on ways to use AEM in ways to offset PCM’s cross-domain measurement restrictions. 

Facebook outlines that AEM limits advertisers to eight conversion events–either pixel-based events or custom conversions–that can be used for campaign optimization per domain. It is crucial to recognize that Facebook pixels will now be tied to a domain rather than an ad account. For advertisers, this update means that they should take immediate action to both verify their domains and configure their eight conversion events for campaign optimization. 

These events will be ranked by priority in Business Manager with a new tool that Facebook will be launching. Facebook will automatically rank the events by priority, so there is no manual work to be done at this stage. In other words, when a user takes multiple actions during a conversion journey–for example if they add an item to their cart and make a purchase in one session–only the highest priority event (i.e., the purchase) will be reported. With this new protocol, all other events–even if they are part of the 8 conversion maximum–may record lower numbers than anticipated. In preparation, advertisers should select the events that provide the most value for their business. 

Advertisers should be aware that if or when they change the priority order of their events or remove an event entirely, ads and ad sets that are subsequently impacted will pause for three days. This period allows for a day of attribution of an event after a click and a 1-2 day delay for the event reporting, which helps reduce any inaccuracies with data reporting. If ads are paused entirely, advertisers will have to manually restart them in the Ads Manager following the three days. 

The Impact Beyond Facebook

Apple’s policy updates predominantly affect Facebook and its advertising partners. However, other apps and platforms will also experience the repercussions of the iOS 14 update.

Google and Google Analytics

While there was some initial speculation that iOS 14 will impact Google Analytics, this has since been debunked. Rumours circulated that the rollout of Safari 14, in conjunction with iOS 14, would impact Intelligent Tracking Prevention (ITP). However, ITP only limits cross-domain tracking and is not designed to prevent marketers from gathering behavioural insights onsite. That said, iOS 14 does not include any updates to the way ITP works, and therefore, there is no immediate impact on Google Analytics tracking.

Moreover, Google has announced that they will comply with the ATT framework by updating their app page listing in the App Store to include new App Privacy Details. For app advertisers, Google recommends upgrading to the latest version of Google Analytics for Firebase while continuing to monitor their iOS App campaigns closely and making adjustments to their campaigns as needed. Google has not made any further announcements as to whether they will introduce any attributes similar to Facebook.

Getting Started

Northern recognizes that the rollout of ATT will have a significant impact on advertisers across the web. To effectively prepare for the update, we will work with you and your team to reach the appropriate solutions so you can get the most out of all your Facebook ad campaigns. For additional information on the subject, check out some of the helpful resources below.

If you are looking for ways to prepare for the iOS 14 update, or are looking for eCommerce solutions, contact Northern today!

Additional resources

About Aggregated Event Measurement

Configuring Events to Use Aggregated Event Measurement

About Event Priority

User Privacy and Data Use

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