Apple’s iOS 15 Impact: How Digital Marketers Can Navigate the Latest Privacy Features
Apple is taking another swipe at advertisers with the rollout of iOS 15, the next version of its iOS software.
iOS 15 was launched last week, on September 20, and marked the latest major update for the iPhone operating system.
What does this mean for advertising and your digital marketing strategy? iOS 15 introduced new features which allow users to block tracking practices common in performance marketing.
The three main features that will have the largest impact on your digital marketing strategy are “Hide My Email”, “Mail Privacy Protection” and “iCloud Private Relay”. We’ll talk through each of these features to describe how they are designed to protect personal information and provide our immediate recommendations on how to mitigate the impact on performance marketers.
The Marketing Impact of Hide My Email
According to Apple, Hide My Email, “Instantly generates unique, random email addresses that forward to your personal inbox — so you don’t have to share your real email address when filling out a form.”
This means that Brand A could have an opted-in user associated with firstname.lastname@example.org and Brand B would have a different email for the same customer, email@example.com, even though both emails forward to firstname.lastname@example.org. Any email from Brand A or Brand B sent to the first two randomly created email addresses will be forwarded to email@example.com.
Email marketing is typically the central key for brands to identify users and is, therefore, an important touchpoint in connecting a user with a website purchase. Apple’s Hide My Email feature will hinder this.
To adapt, brands need to rethink and restructure their Customer Data Platform (CDP) and Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems to allow for multiple email addresses for one individual customer. We also recommend brands adapt to become less reliant on email as the “unifying key” or “source of truth” for identity. With the email address now becoming fungible, we recommend identifying alternative unique customer identifiers or a combination of identifiers such as phone numbers or a combination of phone numbers and names.
The Marketing Impact of Mail Privacy Protection
Mail Privacy Protection allows iOS users to hide their IP addresses from mail senders and prevent senders from seeing if they’ve opened your email.
Typically, brands and marketers use a tracking pixel, informing them when a mail user has opened their email. This metric, called open rate, is a key performance indicator email marketers use to inform and direct their strategy. The main impact of Mail Privacy Protection for marketers will be their inability to accurately track open rates.
Apple touts that this feature means “senders can’t link it to your other online activity.” However, you have to consider that a click-through from a marketing email can include URL parameters that would still allow brands to connect browsing activity with a specific user. The loss of signal for marketers is really only within tracking open rates or engagement within a particular email, rather than measuring and personalizing online experiences post-click from an email.
The Marketing Impact of iCloud Private Relay
The more relevant loss of signal for marketers is for new customers coming into the funnel who have enabled the iCloud Private Relay (IPR).
IPR allows iOS 15 Safari users to mask their IP address by sending traffic through multiple “internet relays”. With IP addresses becoming an unreliable indicator for audience targeting, some geo-targeted campaigns could be negatively impacted.
The real impact to most performance marketers would likely see a disruption to geo-targeting advertising on Google. If you have campaigns that rely on accurate targeting of a users’ physical location, users who are using IPR could either be inaccurately excluded from your geotargeting or inaccurately included. Why would they be inaccurately included? Because the proxy put them in an IP address of your target geographic area causing someone to end up in your campaigns when you don’t want them to be.
We likely won’t see an immediate, pronounced impact on geo-targeted campaigns. As more iOS 15 users enable IPR, we could start to see a lower click-through rate in geo-based campaigns.
Apple notably has flagged the iCloud Private Relay feature as beta. This is likely because the browsing experience for most users will be negatively impacted.
GDPR compliance is not required if websites intentionally block and prevent from selling to UK/EU IP address locations. Many sites, for example, that are not GDPR compliant, will block or restrict traffic based on IP addresses. This means some users in the U.S. could be incorrectly restricted from accessing a site they want to when using the iCloud Private Relay. These issues would only occur when the IP address is sent to a website through IPR is not from the same region as the user.
It remains to be seen how often this will be an issue with IPR, but the general issue isn’t new. Users experienced something similar several years ago when blocking session-level cookies in the early days of the internet. Many privacy-conscious users would restrict or block all cookies (even when using sites that required a logged-in session to work), and found themselves unable to use the sites they actually wanted to. In the early stages of IPR, we’ll probably see a similar effect as sites start to build experiences that allow for an alternative to IP-based blocking.
The other reaction to watch will be to see how Google adapts its targeting to be less reliant on the IP address, and likely, more reliant on their own data on users.
With over 1.5B+ Google accounts globally, chances are many users’ searches will be done from a Google logged-in state. From Google’s own documentation, they rely on IP Address, GPS, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and Google’s cell ID (cell tower) location database. Hopefully, those indicators will give Google enough ability to still geo-target.
Mitigating the Digital Marketing Impact of iOS 15 & Beyond
Two of Apple’s updates this year, iOS 14.5 & iOS 15, have introduced new user-privacy features that disrupted digital marketing. We are now living in a privacy-first world and marketers need to remain agile, diversify their media spend, and take time to truly understand their customers.
While it’s fair to begrudge the loss of accurate tracking, marketers should take this time to build a foundation on a clear understanding of their customers, their unique product cycles, and their high-value touchpoints. It was easy to forfeit these insights to big tech, but that also left many brands vulnerable to the privacy shifts we are experiencing now.
By taking the time to develop a strategic foundation, marketers will become stronger, more resilient, and more effective at connecting with tech-savvy consumers increasingly in control of what, how, and with whom their personal information is shared.
Adlucent’s Consulting Services provide customized solutions to the current and upcoming privacy challenges in the digital marketing industry. We support your tagging and 1st party data strategy through a combination of audits and integration work that sets up server-side tagging to improve performance on your digital advertising channels. Contact us today to learn more.