Apple is implementing new user privacy features in iOS 14 that will change the way iOS apps will be able to track users.

My name is Depesh Mandalia and I’m the founder of SM Commerce, a Facebook ads agency here in the UK, and creator of elite training programs, such as The Ultimate CBO Cookbook and the BPM Method.

I’ve spent countless hours researching and compiling information both from Apple and Facebook’s developer documentation and blog posts to completely understand what’s happening and coming with iOS 14. I’m here today on the Revealbot blog to summarize the biggest changes and things you need to do today to prepare.

Basically, tracking on Apple devices running iOS 14 or higher will eventually be opt-in for users once the update rolls out this year. So it’s not just Facebook that will be affected, but Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok, Pinterest, and every single other app that uses any kind of third-party data to collect information about its users.

Each of these apps will have to set up a prompt that asks users whether they want to opt in or opt out from tracking by this app. Just as we’ve seen developers implement their own prompts before they trigger system prompts, we will probably see the same thing here with apps attempting to persuade users to allow tracking.

Here is one test version by Facebook to get an idea of the experience to come:

We’re going to cover exactly what’s changing from both a user’s point-of-view and from an advertiser’s point-of-view, as well as what we can do to mitigate the effects of this update as much as possible.

Key takeaways
  • An update in iOS 14 will make tracking opt-in for users, placing friction between apps and their ability to track user behavior across other apps and websites
  • This will require Facebook to do statistcal modeling for attribution for conversions from iOS 14 users
  • Due to tracking limitations, we're expecting a drop in size and quality of custom and retargeting audiences
  • You need to update your conversion events in the Events Manager (more below)

What is Apple thinking?!

The discussion around privacy has been heating up in the United States, following major online privacy and data policies enacted in the European Union (GDPR). And Apple, who has not been quiet about making privacy a cornerstone of their brand, is taking a giant leap towards protecting peoples’ data rights ahead of policy makers in the US.

Because Apple controls the hardware and the App Store on iOS devices, they have the ability to force all apps to comply with their terms, rather than lawmakers who can only enact policy to punish non-compliers with fines after the fact.

Possibly in response to the controversies surrounding Facebook in the last two US presidential elections and the growing public awareness of how Facebook and other social media platforms use peoples’ data, Apple decided to take a proactive business strategy to make tracking on their platform opt-in.

While Apple has been positioning themselves as a hero privacy protector for the people, there’s no question they benefit from a financial perspective, too. And naturally Facebook, the largest online advertising platform in the world, is pissed. So pissed, they even published two full-page open letters in the Wall Street Journal.

Facebook’s response has been to position Apple’s move as an attack on small businesses who, as we especially know, benefit immensely from Facebook ads. In their second letter, Facebook paints the picture of how Apple is threatening the viability of people’s favorite free content sites.

Despite Facebook’s PR attempts, we aren’t anticipating that Apple will reverse their decision. Tim Cook even tweeted a response to Facebook:

Now that we have some context, let’s look at how this affects us and our ad campaigns.

How iOS 14 is changing Facebook ads

When a similar tracking opt-in was introduced with iOS 13 with regards to tracking location data, a Digiday report claims “opt-in rates to share data with apps when they're not in use are often below 50%” when just a few years prior, the rate was close to 100%. “Higher opt-in rates prevailed when people weren't aware that they even had a choice.”

But according to a recent survey, only 35% of respondents said they would allow app tracking to see personalized ads, however 59% of respondents said they would allow tracking if that’s how the app delivers relevant content.

Because tracking is used to deliver personalized content, people who opt-out may notice their newsfeed become less and less relevant to them over time. We may see some users reverse their decision and re-enable tracking simply to improve their experience on the apps they use. And although Apple states developers can’t incentivize users to accept data tracking, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Facebook (and other apps) attempt to wiggle their way around that. So it’s still up in the air what the real opt-in ratio will be.

The Scale of the impact

About 45% of the smartphone users in the United States are iPhone users and iPhone users are typically the mobile demographic most likely to make purchases from Facebook ads for ecommerce.

Devices that will be impacted by the update include those that run iOS 14, iPadOS 14, and tvOS 14 or higher. The iOS 14 update will not impact what’s being tracked on desktop via the Facebook Pixel.

Judging by the growth of iOS 14, which was released around September/October of 2019, I estimate that by the end of 2021 we’ll see at least 80% or more of iOS devices running iOS 14.

To estimate the scale of impact to you or your clients, you can take a look now at how much of your traffic and revenue is generated from iOS devices.

I cover more of this in my deep dive on iOS 14 to help you measure this more precisely.

Based on how much iOS devices make up your customer base, you can expect a proportional impact to the following areas, which I go into a bit more detail below:

  • For app advertisers, you’ll have much more restrictions on the number of campaigns you can make and events you can track
  • Because data captured by Facebook will be somewhat partial, Facebook will employ statistical modeling to give its advertisers a best estimate for ad reporting (more below).
  • Custom audience sizes are likely to drop from not having iOS 14 users
  • Facebook’s conversion optimization algorithm will also experience a drop in efficacy as the new default attribution windows don’t have as much data to look back on

What’s changing for app advertisers

To comply with Apple’s update, Facebook is making changes to their app-based advertising SDK. This is for advertisers who run ads for app installs and need in-app tracking to measure conversions and for apps who use Facebook’s Audience Network for monetization.

To comply with Apple’s updated SKAdNetwork mobile app package, Facebook advertisers are now limited to the following:

  1. One ad account per app
  2. Maximum of 9 campaigns and 5 ad sets per campaign
  3. Dedicated campaigns for iOS 14 users are required
  4. Maximum of 14 events tracked
  5. Reporting data aggregated at campaign level with modeled (i.e. imprecise) results at ad set and ad level
  6. No breakdown of 1d, 7d, or 28d attribution windows
  7. No other breakdowns by demographics, device, placements, etc
  8. Slightly longer reporting delays

More details on limitations and future features can be found on Facebook’s developer blog.

At this time, there has been some misunderstanding that the above also applies to non-app install campaigns, but this is neither true or confirmed by Facebook.

Facebook warns that advertisers who heavily rely on the Facebook Audience Network will be impacted the most:

"For developers and publishers using Audience Network, our ability to deliver targeted ads on iOS 14 will be limited. As a result, some iOS 14 users may not see any ads from Audience Network, while others may still see ads from us, but they'll be less relevant. Because of advertisers’ reduced ability to accurately target and measure their campaigns, app developers and publishers should expect lower CPMs on Audience Network and likely other ad networks on iOS. While it’s difficult to quantify the impact to publishers and developers at this point with so many unknowns, in testing we’ve seen more than a 50% drop in Audience Network publisher revenue when personalization was removed from mobile app ad install campaigns. In reality, the impact to Audience Network on iOS 14 may be much more, so we are working on short-and long-term strategies to support publishers through these changes."

How Facebook ad reporting will be affected

To mitigate some of the effects of the update, Facebook made some changes to events occurring on iOS devices. Events refer to actions taken by users on either mobile devices or on desktop that involve viewing a product, adding-to-cart, purchasing, etc.

For starters, advertisers will be limited to only 8 events per domain. If you are optimizing for events that cannot be found among the 8 events, those ad sets will be paused. You will also be asked to rank 8 events in order of importance—as after some users opt out, you’ll only receive information on one event.

For example, if your top goal is tracking purchases, you won’t be able to see the whole customer journey, only the purchase event. This may make it more difficult to identify products with high cart abandonment or products with a lot of views.

  1. Statistical modeling will be used for iOS 14 users in your ads reporting, so it won’t be completely precise
  2. Date and time for offline conversions will reflect the time of conversion as recorded in your data instead of estimated to the time of the ad impression
  3. The attribution windows for 28 day click, 28 day view, and 7 day view will be deprecated

How Facebook ad audiences will be affected

Custom, retargeting, and lookalike audiences are likely to shrink as a consequence of limited tracking data and fewer events tracked on iOS users who opt out.

When users opt-out of tracking with iOS 14, Facebook won’t receive back their user IDs, which will not only affect reporting, but audience building and integrity as well. However, the extent of this shrink will depend on how many iOS users opt-out.

Delivery and optimization are also likely to suffer since Facebook will be limited to tracking fewer events.

Checklist: Do these things now to minimize effects of iOS 14

The good news is that Facebook is on your side and working around the clock on solutions and new features/tools to mitigate as much tracking and reporting issues from the iOS 14 update as possible.

Here’s the four most important things Facebook and I recommend you do today:

1. Adapt for eight conversion events - for optimization and reporting

Facebook will be setting a limit of eight conversion events (standard and custom) for optimization and reporting per domain, which you can set in your Events Manager under Aggregated Event Measurement.

  • Facebook will automatically choose your eight events for you if you don’t specify them in order of volume
  • Ad sets optimized for events not in your eight will be paused
  • You need to prioritize your order of importance for your eight events
  • If someone opts out of iOS 14 tracking, Facebook will only measure one conversion event in your order of importance, so make sure your most important event is first (e.g. purchase)

In this example from Facebook, you can see the before and after changes to conversion events.

Here’s a video where I talk more about my strategy for the eight events.

2. Complete your domain verification

If you haven’t done so already, make sure your domain is verified in Facebook Business Manager so you can claim ownership over your domain and track the activity of iOS users. If the domains aren’t verified, you won’t be able to edit conversion events.

To verify your domain, you need to either add a DNS TXT entry to your DNS record, upload an HTML file to your web directory, or add a meta tag to the <head> of your website. Then you’ll need to add your domain to your Business Manager settings. Full instructions and details can be found here.

If you’re verifying a domain on behalf of a client, make sure it’s being verified in your client’s Business Manager, not yours.

3. Update your Facebook SDK (if applicable)

If you’re an app advertiser or monetize apps using the Audience Network, you need to immediately update your SDK and code to comply with both Facebook and Apple’s advertising policies with iOS 14.

4. Prepare for further reporting loss

In my deep dive guidance for iOS 14, I cover several different options to recoup, or at least mitigate as much as possible, reporting data loss from iPhone users. I also cover how to understand and measure the impact of your data loss.

Remember, a loss in conversion data accuracy in Ads Manager will affect the performance and reliability of your Revealbot automated rules for Facebook.

For the most accurate conversion data, you’ll need a 3rd party tool that uses first party data collection and therefore will be largely unaffected (in terms of reporting) by iOS 14. My team and I use Wicked Reports, which can record conversions and do multi-channel attribution accurately with iOS 14.

You can even export Wicked Reports conversion data and use it in your Revealbot automated rules with Revealbot’s Google Sheet integration.

More resources

This change from Apple with iOS 14 is a big change for everyone that will undoubtedly have some level of consequences for every Facebook advertisers, big and small.

But fortunately, there are many of us here to help you navigate these changes and the new advertising world post iOS 14.

The first resource you should bookmark is my 50+ page iOS 14 Recommendation Guide with curated, easy-to-read info from official Apple and Facebook developer documentation and blog posts. I’m always updating it when new information comes out and there will be more to come out as the update rolls out.

I also did a two hour chat with a few other Facebook ad experts and we talk about how we’re doing to prepare at our agencies for ourselves and for our clients. It’s a must watch for all Facebook advertisers.

Inside Ads Manager, Facebook also launched a few tools such as the Resource Center, which is a new tab in your Ad Manager that shows a personalized checklist of things you need to do to prepare for the iOS 14 update.

And if you have questions for me about iOS 14, leave a comment on my iOS 14 guide and join our community on Facebook.