With this week’s release of iOS 14.5, Apple has put another obstacle between marketers and the data they crave. Rather than look for ways around that obstacle, marketers should ask themselves some hard, but important, questions.
The iOS update includes App Tracking Transparency, Apple’s latest measures to enhance user privacy. The feature asks users to explicitly opt into brands sharing user data "across other companies’ apps and websites," according to Apple. Crucially, it also allows users to opt out of inter-company sharing of user data.
This comes after Cupertino added 'privacy nutritional labels' to the App Store in Dec. 2020 that detail what user data apps have access to. The privacy labels presented information passively; no user action required. That changes with App Tracking Transparency. While the collection and sharing of user data isn’t banned or blocked, those practices become much more transparent to the user.
Now that users will know how their data is being shared and will have the ability to opt out, marketers should expect the wide-open spigot of user data to start drying up. Not every user will opt out, but enough will that the landscape for user data, ad targeting, and cross-device experiences is bound to change.
That alone should give marketers pause: If users opt out of cross-company data sharing as soon as they’re able, that says a lot about customer attitudes.
That makes this an inflection point for Apple and users, and also for marketers. This is a moment in which brands need to think clearly, carefully, and in a user-centric way about what they do with the data they collect.
The App Tracking Transparency opt-out means that the user’s first in-app experience of your brand is learning how you want to share their personal data. Depending on policies and practices, that may make an uncomfortable first impression.
If your app uses geo-location data to provide contextually relevant information that helps users do what they want, it’s hard to imagine that users will object. But if your app collects location data it doesn’t need, shares that with third parties the user isn’t aware of, or uses data in ways that could be deemed invasive, users may be suspicious. It’s not hard to imagine brands with thoughtful data-use policies benefitting from differentiation in particularly competitive spaces.
There will be many workarounds to bypass Apple’s anti-tracking, cookie-less future, but brands need to be careful about their hunger for this data. Users may come to see workarounds as less-than-forthright attempts to capture data they’d rather not share. Implications could range from damaged brand perception to Apple blocking data tracking and sharing even more (imagine the user-data drought that would result from Apple building a system-level VPN into the iOS!).
So, what’s a marketer to do? Return to core values.
Deliver a compelling experience and a lot of value, while being respectful of what you ask users to divulge. Ask some hard questions about how your data collection and sharing practices comport—or don’t—with your brand values.
Combine the delivery of real value with thoughtful data-collection and -sharing policies and users will view some tracking as a fair exchange. Get greedy or flagrant and when users find out—and you should assume they will—they’ll be angry. Is the reputational, and business, risk worth it?