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News Analysis 21 Jun 2021 - 4 min read

Apple has double standards, say The Trade Desk, Blis, but no threat to next-gen universal IDs from iOS15 update

By Sam Buckingham-Jones - Senior Writer

“These changes make post-cookie identity solutions such as UID2, which is not dependent upon fingerprinting, more appealing,” CTO Aaron Mckee says.

The market is still coming to grips with iOS15, which includes another raft of Apple features that will impact digital marketing and the adtech industry. The Trade Desk says it is unfazed by the changes, and the post-cookie user identity alternative it is promoting - one of numerous options industry is scrambling globally to invent. But Blis, a location-powered programmatic trader, has hit out at Apple, saying while some of the features are welcome, others show no industry consultation and constantly shifting goalposts.

What you need to know:

  • Blis CTO Aaron Mckee says Apple holds other companies to higher standards of transparency than itself and has once again shifted the goalposts with no industry consultation.
  • Apple is “solving a problem that doesn’t exist” in hiding IP addresses, which will make dodgy ads harder to track.
  • The Trade Desk has released an interview with CTO and cofounder Dave Pickles about Apple’s latest iOS privacy features, which include changes to emails and IP addresses.
  • Pickles says Trade Desk is not worried about the features, which he expects will not be widely adopted and may cause Apple to hike prices down the line.

If we’ve learned nothing else, we’ve learned that the platforms are going to be unreliable partners. You need to have something that they can’t take away, where you have an opt-in relationship with your consumers.

Dave Pickles, CTO and co-founder at The Trade Desk

Apple’s aggressive iOS15 privacy features pose little threat to the marketing industry's race to build a next-generation unified user identity system (UID 2.0) to replace third party cookies, reckons The Trade Desk, while programmatic trader Blis believes the privacy-first changes being touted by Apple will in fact boost the importance of what many call UID2.0.

Earlier this month, Apple announced a suite of services that will impact the marketing and adtech industry, including hiding user IP addresses from trackers, a “burner” email address option and email pixel blocking.

As part of what it called Private Relay, Apple will hide user IP addresses for paying iCloud+ subscribers by redirecting and encrypting Safari traffic through two servers – IP addresses are critical in identifying, targeting and tracking online users.

Dave Pickles, chief technology officer and co-founder of The Trade Desk, said he did not believe features announced as part of Apple’s iOS15 would be widely adopted.

On the Hide My Email feature, which allows users to create so-called burner emails and remain anonymous to first-party data platforms, Pickles says it is not practical if users ever interact with non-Apple devices.

“If you want to live in the iCloud world — and there are people who do — you can,” he told Trade Desk's internal publication, The Current.

“Though I believe it’s a fairly fringe activity and don’t see it being adopted at scale… If you have your Facebook login on a ton of different devices, several of which are outside Apple’s ecosystem, you’re not going to use Hide My Email because you’re going to have to memorise Apple’s randomised email.

“It’s the same reason that password managers are very poorly adopted, even though they’re very good for security.” 

We hope that Apple will provide similar transparency over how they use people's data, given that their tracking and advertising activities are held to lower standards than that of other companies.

Aaron Mckee, CTO at Blis

Pickles indicated that creating a second email address to protect a personal email address might become more common.

“Some people will certainly create a new email address for their UID2 profile and that might be a best practice,” he said.

“There’s no reason the industry needs a user’s personal, private email. We just want to have the common key to be able to curate content for users.” 

On the Private Relay feature, Pickles warned Apple may increase its prices if a lot of people use it.

“It’s not free,” he said.

“There’s only one way to hide an IP address and that’s to create a proxy that sits between the user and the far end that obscures the IP address.”

The major tech platforms are going to keep changing the rules, said Pickles. Which is why some believe solutions like UID2.0 will be crucial in the short to medium term.  

“Brands and agencies should be adopting UID2 as fast as they possibly can,” he said.

“If we’ve learned nothing else, we’ve learned that the platforms are going to be unreliable partners. You need to have something that they can’t take away, where you have an opt-in relationship with your consumers.” 

The market appears to support Pickles view that the latest announced iOS features won’t impact The Trade Desk's viability. Since Apple flagged its latest changes on 7 June, the companies share price has continued to tick upwards..

If you want to live in the iCloud world — and there are people who do — you can... though I believe it’s a fairly fringe activity and don’t see it being adopted at scale.

Dave Pickles, CTO and co-founder of The Trade Desk

iOS15 to kill fingerprinting, help UID2.0?

Location-based programmatic firm Blis said while iOS15 “will affect how publishers, analysts, and advertisers perform their duties”, the short term impact will give UID2.0 a shot in the arm.

“These changes make post-cookie identity solutions such as UID2, which is not dependent upon fingerprinting, more appealing,” CTO Aaron Mckee said.

“Other solutions, rooted in fingerprinting, are going to face an existential crisis. Apple's changes here are likely to reduce competition, without really making a difference to privacy for many people.”

Mckee says Apple is “solving a privacy problem that doesn’t exist” with its IP address changes, but believes it could mean some publishers are “facing extinction” and more dodgy ads.

“IP addresses are used by such companies in a number of ways – to help serve relevant content to users, to identify bots or bad actors that might try to defraud companies or serve malware to people, and to help limit the number of ads people see,” he said.

“As an advertising technology company that values and respects privacy and giving people control over their data, we believe Apple should engage with publishers and tech companies on constructive measures that accomplish these goals.”

He hit out at Apple for double standards, encouraging transparency but failing to show their own tracking and advertising activities. Another new Apple feature, App Privacy Report, will allow users to see how their personal data is being used and shared by apps.

“We think this is unquestionably a good thing and we expect that apps may re-evaluate some of their practices to ensure they are user-friendly and that personal data is used appropriately,” Mckee said.

“We hope that Apple will provide similar transparency over how they use people's data, given that their tracking and advertising activities are held to lower standards than that of other companies.”

If in doubt...

Overall, Blis’s Mckee expressed frustration at Apple’s rapid pace of announcements that have implications on a major industry.

“Apple continues to move the goal posts with little consultation with the industry and little notice for marketers to adjust. The industry is facing some of the biggest changes it's seen in a decade, as new privacy regulations emerge and unilateral choices made by Facebook, Google, or Apple affect how businesses operate.

"There are many companies promising workarounds or 'solutions' to continue using identity to target and show ads to people. These solutions are not always viable for the long term, especially as goal posts change again," he said.  

“Marketers, especially those at big brands, value their relationship with consumers and always want to be seen in a positive light. The best strategy to prepare for the future is to ensure that they and their partners value and respect consumer privacy and find solutions that are not reliant upon personal data to deliver effective advertising.”

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Sam Buckingham-Jones

Senior Writer

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