October 20, 2021
2021 has seen a frequent flow of updates to the iPhone iOS operating system, with each building an increasingly high wall around Apple’s much profiled stance on user privacy.
The first taste of Apple’s positioning as the most “Privacy First” of the Big Tech super powers can be traced way back to to 2014, with Tim Cook's open letter stating firming “...we believe a great customer experience shouldn’t come at the expense of your privacy.”
It was the early salvo and a clear separation from the competition of Android, Microsoft, not to mention a future game changer for Facebook and the digital advertising industry in general.
Fast forward to 2021 and Apple’s privacy strategy is now more than words, keynote speeches or marketing straplines, it’s ingrained in its product offering - yet this month, we’re about to see perhaps the most significant step yet.
Along with the more headline grabbing buzz of the iPhone 13 launch, Apple's California Streaming event on 14th September could also see the official release of the latest iPhone operating system iOS 15 and with it a whole host of new privacy related features.
Earlier this year, iOS 14.5 introduced the hugely significant privacy features of App Tracking Transparency (ATT) putting in place the need for explicit consent for any mobile ID collection. Apple users now have the option to opt-in before apps and advertisers can use Apple device identifiers to help target ads and track how effective they are.
However with iOS 15, along with a bunch of updates to Safari, FaceTime, Maps and Wallet, we’re about to see the most fundamental privacy changes yet from Apple for it’s 1 billion active iPhone users and the digital marketers who try to reach and engage with them.
First up, iOS 15 will include a privacy dashboard, which builds upon the App Tracking Transparency “opt in” feature.
The privacy dashboard will provide a correlated view of the apps that have permission to access data such as user photos, contacts and mic and when they access them.
Users can also check with whom their data may be shared by seeing all the third-party domains an app is contacting.
One of the key metrics used by email marketing is of course open rate. A high rate indicating a subject line was appealing or it was sent at the right time of day. It’s fundamental to email marketing.
iOS 15 will put an end to email tracking by marketers with a powerful new tool, Mail Privacy Protection (MMP). It prevents the commonplace practice of placing invisible pixels inside emails to learn how often people open a message and other details such as their location via their IP address.
In addition, a new Hide My Email capability creates a unique and random email address when a user signs up on a website or an app on their iPhone. It acts as a middle man, ensuring that their true, private email address isn’t shared with websites or third parties and therefore cutting out the resulting influx of unwanted spam mail to the user.
With App Tracking Transparency, Apple required other developers to seek users permission for targeted ads. With iOS 15, they are holding themselves to the same user compliance rules. Serving relevant ads in the App Store and Apple News based on location, what you read, search or buy was previously collected by default by Apple but they will now ask for users permission.
Alongside iOS 15, Apple will also launch its new iCloud+ service, which adds additional features to all paid iCloud accounts, again with privacy at its core.
A key component will be iCloud Private Relay which ensures Safari browsing and other unencrypted traffic leaving an iPhone, iPad, or Mac is encrypted.
It takes a double server approach, so that companies cannot use personal information like IP address, location, and browsing activity to create a detailed profile about each user- a process known appropriately as Fingerprinting.
With Private Relay, Apple knows the user IP address and a third-party server partner knows the sites the user is visiting. The two sets of information are not linked, so neither Apple nor the partner company has a complete picture of the sites being visited, the user location, and neither does the website you're browsing. Normally websites have access to this data and combined with cookies, can use it to build a profile of user preferences.
From a Digital Marketing & Advertising perspective, the new iOS updates are the latest in a tide of challenges for collecting all important data and metrics on audiences and users.
This all encompassing strategy from Apple, plus the wider, hugely significant demise of Third Party Cookies, emphasises the growing importance of first-party data (the data an organisation collects and manages directly from it’s own customers).
Marketers will need to utilise new disruptive technologies to address data privacy regulations. Organisations will be keen to keep their customers' data personal, in-house with much less focus on 3rd party data services.
This opens up a new opportunity for more inventive technologies to enable the personalisation and contextualisation of media without the need to share more data.
Organisations need to rethink how they measure the success of campaigns and technologies that enable targeting and engagement across the entire engagement chain. The focus on increasing customer Lifetime Value (LTV) and smarter analytics tracking from marketing message to purchase, to better measure campaign success.
Apple’s iOS 15 update is further tangible proof that user data, how it's used, tracked and kept private is now ingrained into its products and services.
The new Mail Privacy Protection alone will have a huge impact on the entire Email Marketing industry. There has been urgent preparation and re-thinking on how to measure future email campaigns, such as segmenting audiences who use the desktop Mail App from iPhone and collating more current open rate information, so to have a bigger foundation and analysis to work from once the data stops flowing.
The need to prepare and adapt is never more important to utilise compliant data in new ways so as to lead and prosper in this new privacy first era.