In a rare change of course, Apple has reversed the announcement that it was instituting a significant overhaul to its IDFA (or Identifier for Advertisers) privacy protocols via iOS 14. The original announcement sent tremors through the ad tech industry, thousands of corporate boardrooms, developers and privacy groups.

The motivation behind this temporary reversal was clearly spelled out:

Per TechCrunch, Apple said “We want to give developers the time they need to make the necessary changes, and, as a result, the requirement to use this tracking permission will go into effect early next year.”

2021 feels distant, but given that time is inexorable, it’ll be here before you know it and so will a renewed discussion of how to address the dueling needs of both consumers and the mobile advertising industry.

So why the commotion? Advertisers have long relied on the IDFA as the go-to method to identify which consumers should be targeted via mobile advertising networks and where they can be reached. To put it in context, the IDFA is crucial to an industry that tops $80 in annual revenue. The IDFA plays a significant role in mobile ad spend attribution, which is in turn, the backbone of the mobile ad tech ecosystem. In short, any advertising campaign at incorporates paid UA (user acquisition) to minimize churn, drive app installs and generate new business must validate their spend through 3rd party mobile measurement and attribution solutions like AppsFlyer, Adjust, AdRoll and others to stay in business.

If Apple moves forward with their original decision, iOS 14 will essentially neutralize the IDFA by moving it from a remote, backwoods region of the Settings section where consumers were unlikely to see it to front and center of the device home screen, where it will be unavoidable. The IDFA modification would now require opt-in for every single app.

Consumer behavior is highly predictable when it comes to privacy: the more the better.

iOS 14 will display an opt-in notification asking if a consumer will grant a company the option to “track you across apps and websites owned by other companies?” The answer to that question will be an emphatic no.

It’s important to point out that the IDFA’s core capabilities aren’t going away, they are simply being placed front and center, where they will be noticed by consumers who have grown increasingly wary about their lack of privacy, both real and perceived.

While this change may be a positive for consumer privacy, it will pose a significant problem for the advertising industry’s attribution model and will need to be met head on.

The digital paradigm shift favoring enhanced privacy is not limited to Apple. Google’s GAID identifier may follow a similar trajectory where it will undoubtedly also lead to a marked decrease in tracking permissions.

The IDFA’s value to publishers may be at risk, but thankfully for developers, the iOS IDFV will remain intact. This specific identifier is used by app store vendors and allows developers to see when consumers install one or more of their apps. If the IDFV doesn’t follow the IDFA’s trajectory, it may in turn lead to application publisher consolidation. In this scenario, app publishers would be highly motivated to purchase large inventories of low value, casual and even enterprise apps in order to build a larger footprint of device identifiers that can then be used to retarget users across their app network.

Key takeaway: changes to the IDFA could justify an era of major consolidation where vast libraries of apps, games and personalization offerings are combined across one massive publisher.

As of now, there are more questions and answers about what comes next in the privacy turf wars. In addition to the challenges and opportunities faced by developers, publishers and advertisers, MMP’s may soon take on a vastly expanded role. MMP’s (or Mobile Marketing Partners) are 3rd party solution providers who monitor and measure conversions in the mobile advertising ecosystem. Data points include app installs, churn and paid campaign attribution. They also provide an essential service by validating the work done by ad networks. Conversion metrics are the lifeblood of any paid campaign. Without clean data, mobile marketers can’t optimize campaign performance, or most worrisome, justify further spend. If device-specific data is retired due to the IDFA changes taking place with iOS 14, MMP’s will have to rely on non-specific device identifier data. This paradigm shift will mean that the value of the data they have access to will become far more general. Parsing general data so that it speaks to concrete findings will become an imperative for the industry’s survival.

Major changes are coming to ad tech in 2021 and they won’t be limited to iOS 14.

Adapting to the ever-shifting digital marketing landscape will require creativity, speed and most importantly, a strategic understanding of how to not only survive in the new digital privacy frontier, but how to thrive in it.

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