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News Analysis 16 Jun 2021 - 6 min read

Apple rumble: iOS 15 to clobber fingerprinting, ‘householding’, ID targeting and email marketing

By Sam Buckingham-Jones - Senior Writer

Industry should assume that Apple's next round of changes could "disable many things that marketers do", says Acoustic CMO, Norman Guadagno.

Apple is keeping the heat on brands and publishing – and for some the impacts of its next iOS15 update could be more disruptive than the end of cookies. Adtech firms are also in Apple's crosshairs. Universal IDs may be toast. Fingerprinting, now rebranded as probabalistic tracking, becomes harder. Anyone that does email marketing should probably be worried.

What you need to know:

  • Apple's iOS15 changes will dwarf those made in iOS14.5, which has hobbled app tracking.
  • Mail Privacy Protection will mean EDM senders won’t be able to track who has opened their emails – at least in Apple's mail app.
  • Intelligent Tracking Prevention will block user IP addresses from trackers, hurting adtech firms and some publishers. 
  • Private Relay, a service for iCloud+ users, will reroute Safari traffic through two servers and hide IP addresses.
  • These changes will make fingerprinting and 'householding' – targeting others in a household based on one user’s behaviour – much more difficult.
  • Marketers must now: get familiar with Apple’s SKAdNetwork and develop sophisticated first-party data.
  • Some will likely try to skirt around Apple’s limitations.

Getting into cat and mouse games with a browser like Safari is not a good strategy – workarounds like fingerprinting using IP addresses were never going to be a long-term solution.

Jason Scott, ANZ CEO of MiQ

Goodbye fingerprinting, IP tracking and 'householding' – maybe. Hello contextual targeting, fragmented approaches and non user-level solutions. Australian ad execs say Apple's latest wedge via iOS15 is set to make iOS14.5, which decimated app-tracking, look tame. Key features set to officially launch later this year include:

  • IP Privacy masking for Intelligent Tracking Prevention (ITP): ITP will be strengthened by blocking “trackers” from reading the user’s IP address.
  • Private Relay: Apple will hide user IP addresses by encrypting redirecting Safari web traffic through two servers, as part of its new iCloud+ service.
  • Mail Privacy Protection: In the Mail app, Apple will block invisible pixels that collect information, including IP addresses and even whether someone has opened an email.
  • Hide My Mail: Users will be able to set up as many unique, random “burner” email addresses that forward to their personal inbox.
  • App Privacy Report: Users can see how often apps access location, photos, camera, microphone and contacts over the previous seven days, and see where data is being shared with third parties.

Apple has pitched itself to the consumer as the privacy-focused provider, launching a widespread digital, out-of-home and TV campaign making the point. Last week, Mi3 asked whether people really care about privacy. Apple is banking that they do – and giving its tech rivals the finger in the process.

Our assumption should be that [Apple's changes] may disable many things marketers do, as those practices often take advantage of all available information on a device or in an app.

Norman Guadagno, CMO, Acoustic

Deep impacts

Apple's newest features will be yet another blow to granular targeting and measurement, Jonas Jaanimagi, tech lead for IAB Australia, believes.

“Apple's iCloud Private Relay feature in iOS15 will effectively act as a VPN by blocking access to the device IP address, location, and browsing activity. This will result in reducing further the volumes of any device-level identities on Apple hardware useful for digital advertising,” he said.

“The granularity of geo-targeting will also be seriously impacted, as will the reach and effectiveness of any targeting and/or measurement related to user enabled IDs.”

As with App Tracking Transparency (ATT), Apple’s key iOS14.5 feature, the real-world impacts Apple's next move will hit home only when they land. But it's probably best to prepare for the worst, per Norman Guadagno, CMO of martech cloud software firm Acoustic.

“Right now, it’s unclear if Apple’s latest privacy restrictions will disable fingerprinting or householding,” he said.

“Our assumption should be that they may disable many things marketers do, as those practices often do take advantage of all available information on a device or in an app.”

While some may be tempted to circumvent Apple's intent, Jason Scott, AUNZ chief executive at programmatic media firm MiQ, thinks that's a bad move.

“Getting into cat and mouse games with a browser like Safari is not a good strategy – workarounds like fingerprinting using IP addresses were never going to be a long-term solution,” he said.

“While IP is not the only data point used in fingerprinting, it is a key data point and fingerprinting will be a lot less accurate without it.”

This is the first announcement out of many. We have to expect all tech providers are heading this direction.

Venessa Hunt, General Manager of ThinkPremiumDigital

It’s worth noting, Scott said, that iOS changes only directly affect half of the addressable market – albeit a very valuable audience for advertisers. While this may currently be leading some brands and agencies to skew towards Android buys, Apple is expected to make its advertising tools more sophisticated over time. Recent changes to its SKAdNetwork for in-app measurement that were seen as a concession to advertisers.

“Finding ways to legitimately reach the valuable audience within the Apple ecosystem – for example through contextual targeting – should still be a part of the marketer’s strategy,” he said.

“It’s becoming increasingly clear that marketers will need to treat each browser and operating system separately, with different targeting and measurement solutions that work for each – which is more evidence of the increasing fragmentation we’re seeing in the industry.”

Numbers racket

Ad analytics companies have expressed concern about the IP masking feature, which may make it more difficult to identify fraudsters.

Invalid Traffic (IVT) on Apple devices, however, accounts for just 10 per cent of overall fraud, and the Private Relay feature will be available for iCloud+ subscription holders. There are 850 million iCloud users, and 170 million paying subscribers, according to one Barclays estimate

Venessa Hunt, General Manager of ThinkPremiumDigital, said the iOS15 changes – in particular the Private Relay – will be just as big as Google’s deprecation of third-party cookies.

“When you go and get a Virtual Private Network (VPN), you hide your IP address. In theory, that’s what they’ll be doing for everybody with iCloud+,” Hunt said.

“This is the first announcement out of many. We have to expect all tech providers are heading this direction. Things that make the internet a safer and more private is always a good thing, we can’t be annoyed at that. However, huge changes will be coming for some bad behaviour, things like device fingerprinting and householding.”

The winners will be Apple – of course – and “anybody that has a sophisticated first-party data strategy”, Hunt said.

“Plus anybody that has already pivoted their business to privacy-centric products. For those that haven’t, their business models will be challenged. We’ve been really focused on media metrics. But all of these changes start to go back to, ‘are we selling more?’

“Our job is the business outcome, not to target, not to chase people down and haunt them around the internet. Our job is to have business outcomes.”

The speed of these announcements, and the expectation that this is the beginning… they’re getting closer and closer together.

Venessa Hunt, General Manager of ThinkPremiumDigital

What's next

IAB Australia’s advice is “to fully adopt and embrace the SKAdNetwork API and thoroughly test Apple's Private Click Measurement attribution tool”, Jonas Jaanimagi said.

Acoustic's Norman Guadagno said marketers must rethink their strategy and where possible, find information about customers in other ways.

“Private Relay will make it more difficult for us to infer a user’s location, for example, but with a multichannel approach, we will be able to secure this information through other means,” he said.

“I think the core of what Apple is working to accomplish with both Private Relay and App Privacy Reports—protecting consumer privacy—is something that all of us can get behind as marketers. We welcome anything that builds consumer trust; at the same time, we can’t rest on our laurels.”

MIQ's Jason Scott said marketers preparing for the death of third party cookies should take a belt and braces approach – especially as many alternative ID solutions are built around email addresses.

“Our advice is to take a broad approach to programmatic targeting and measurement – combining both authenticated identity solutions and anonymous, non user-level solutions is best practice these days,” he said.

“The ‘Hide My Email’ feature – allowing consumers on Safari to create random email addresses (that forward on to their actual email address) will make it harder for ID solutions that rely on email addresses as the basis of their ID such as UID2.0 and LiveRamp’s ATS.”

What is concerning, Hunt said, is the speed at which changes like iOS14.5, iOS15, and the deprecation of third-party cookies are happening.

“The speed of these announcements, and the expectation that this is the beginning… they’re getting closer and closer together,” she said.

“These [digital marketing building blocks] are going in a year. The speed for businesses to pivot is getting harder.”

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Sam Buckingham-Jones

Senior Writer

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