Introduction: Where the Battle of Facebook Vs. Apple Stands Today

When I was just getting started in the digital marketing industry three years ago, GDPR was beginning to come into effect. Everyone thought it would be the end of personalised advertising on Facebook.

While it definitely impacted businesses across the board, emphasising user privacy and protecting data, it certainly didn't diminish a business's ability to create personalised advertisements.

There is similar hype surrounding Apple's iOS 14.5 AppTrackingTransparency policy update, but will it live up to expectations?

In truth, no one knows, but Facebook seems to think so, and herein lies the problem. One of the most notable features of Facebook's advertising platform is the ability to create personalised advertisements, and on face value, Apple's update poses a real threat to that feature.

As a result, Facebook and Apple are openly battling each other in the public domain with everyone watching in anticipation, but the fight isn't about them; it's about the consumers right to privacy, and many of us seem to be forgetting that.

However, what exactly does this iOS update involve?

What is Apple's New Privacy Policy?

Apple's AppTrackingTransparency policy will come in to effect with Apple's iOS 14.5 update. While Apple doesn't pre-announce the release dates of iOS updates, they stated that they intend to issue the release early spring 2021, which could be as soon as March 22nd.

At its core, the AppTrackingTransparency framework will require advertisers to gain users consent before tracking to them - that's it.

iOS 14 ApprackingTransparency Update
The proposed AppTrackingTransparency Framework example

What Data Will the AppTrackingTransparency Policy Prevent Advertisers From Collecting if a User Opts Out?

If someone chooses not to be tracked, it means that Facebook, Google and other applications will be unable to collect IDFA's (Identifiers for advertisers), which are unique identification codes applied to a device - they keep track of a device's activities which advertisers can then use to issue more granular targeting.

Is Apple's iOS 14.5 Data Privacy Policy Simple?

At face value, putting this framework in place seems simple. Other than the above, there isn't much more you need to know about it on a technical level - it's simply a gateway between user data and advertisers.

So, if it's that simple, what's all the commotion about? If this update is about protecting user privacy, why would Facebook have such an issue with it? Surely they want to protect user's data too?

You can read more about the specifics of the AppTrackingTranspaency policy and framework by clicking here.

Where Apple, Facebook and Google Stand on User Privacy

Everyone will be affected by this update, but what specifically are Apple, Facebook and Google saying about this update, and where do they stand on user privacy?

What Is Apple's Stance on User Privacy?

Apple hasn't been shy about expressing its stance on user privacy, with Tim Cook stating:

"We can no longer turn a blind eye to a theory of technology that says all engagement is good engagement – the longer the better – and all with the goal of collecting as much data as possible."

He's right; as much as I preach the benefits of collecting data to make educated decisions on the viability of marketing campaigns, there's a line, and we've been tap dancing on it for some time now.

Cook has also said:

"A social dilemma cannot be allowed to become a social catastrophe."

Whether intentional or not, the mention of the social dilemma (A smash hit Netflix docudrama) by Cook is worth highlighting - because we are undoubtedly living amid a social dilemma.

It's true; the technology developed to bring us closer together is driving us further apart than ever before, and there most definitely isn't an overnight solution.

As a consumer, I'm happy to see Apple taking a step like this. However, as a business owner and marketer, I can't help but ponder the consequences the update will have for small companies and independent publishers who actually need personalised advertising to keep going.

Also, Apple isn't completely innocent in all this, but I'll get on to that later.

What Is Facebook's Stance on User Privacy?

Facebook hasn't been shy about publicly slamming Apple at any opportunity, with Mark Zuckerberg saying that this update will limit the growth of "millions of businesses around the world."

The following day, Tim Cook responded to Facebook at a data privacy conference in Brussels, saying:

"If a business is built on misleading users, on data exploitation, on choices that are not choices at all, it does not deserve our praise. It deserves reform."

Personalised ads allow advertisers to be more aggressive with their targeting, resulting in better results and lower costs overall.

For that reason, Facebook is projecting the narrative that their customers' businesses are at risk, which, by the way, they are.

There is much more to this than meets the eye. Yes, this update is good for consumers, but it will undoubtedly have a range of negative effects on small businesses.

What Is Google's Stance on User Privacy (Yes, This Update Affects Google Too)?

The AppTrackingTransparency update will affect all businesses who advertise online - Facebook has simply been the most vocal about it.

If you haven't noticed, Google isn't making as big of a fuss over this update, and it's likely because they don't need to worry about it (as much as Facebook).

On Google's blog, Christophe Combette briefly covered the possible implications of the update, saying:

"Apple's ATT changes will reduce visibility into key metrics that show how ads drive conversions (like app installs and sales) and will affect how advertisers value and bid on ad impressions. As such, app publishers may see a significant impact to their Google ad revenue on iOS after Apple's ATT policies take effect. To help improve iOS monetisation rates, we encourage developers to upgrade to version 7.64 of the Google Mobile Ads SDK for new features like SKAdNetwork support."

Based on this statement, it seems as though there are, in fact, going to be some negative effects, but nothing in comparison to Facebook.

Combette then went on to say:

"When Apple's policy goes into effect, we will no longer use information (such as IDFA) that falls under ATT for the handful of our iOS apps that currently use it for advertising purposes. As such, we will not show the ATT prompt on those apps, in line with Apple's guidance."

It seems as though Google is saying they are going to stop collecting IDFA's all together on their iOS applications - which makes me think they are throwing the baby out with the bathwater; what do you think?

I'm sure there is a sound reason for them doing this; it just seems slightly counter-intuitive.

Overall, Google hasn't been as vocal as Facebook, and while they have expressed that there will be some negative effects for advertisers, they seem far less worried.

However, time will tell.

What Are Facebook's Four Key Criticisms of Apple's iOS 14.5 Update?

In a recent blog post, the VP of Facebook, Dan Levy, pointed out four issues with Apple's iOS 14 update, all of which are important to consider when pondering the long-term implications of this update:

Facebook Believes Apple Has Created a Policy about Profit, Not Privacy

This makes sense and is maybe the most important point to emphasise; let's break it down.

All businesses and developers that rely on personalised advertising to drive revenue are at risk of being forced into a business model that benefits Apple's bottom line, not theirs.

This is true; if businesses and developers can't make money through personalised advertising, they'll have to charge subscriptions or in-app purchases, or begin advertising on Apple's own network, both of which benefit Apple in two ways cited by dan Levy:

"Apple tax: If content creators have to turn to ways to make money outside of advertising, such as charging people for a subscription or in-app payments, those fees are subject to an Apple tax ranging from 15% to 30%. And this is big business: as Apple's hardware sales are slowing and they have to pivot to their services business, its App Store platform grossed around $50 billion in 2019. With these changes, Apple stands to profit even more from the App Store. In short, Apple's update changes mean more money for Apple and less free stuff for people.

Apple's advertising business: Apple's policies leave very limited options for app developers to find customers through effective advertising, and conveniently, Apple's own advertising products is one of them."

Facebook Believes That Apple Will Hurt Businesses and Publishers Who Are Already Struggling Amid a Pandemic

Facebook gets most of its revenue from big corporations that have money to spend. Many small local businesses and independent publishers don't have big budgets but are still dependent on Facebook for targeted traffic.

In Dan's post, he states that:

"These changes will directly affect their ability to use their advertising budgets efficiently and effectively. Our studies show, without personalised ads powered by their own data, small businesses could see a cut of over 60% of website sales from ads. We don't anticipate the proposed iOS 14 changes to cause a full loss of personalisation but rather a move in that direction over the longer term."

If Facebook's studies are accurate, it proves Apple's update will hurt small businesses more than they care to acknowledge.

It's One Rule for Apple and Another for Everyone Else

As mentioned above by Dan, Apple's own advertising platform is exempt from the AppTrackingTransparency policy - this doesn't seem right.

Levy states:

"That's right, Apple's own personalised ad platform is exempt from the new prompt requirement they've imposed on other companies. By default, Apple uses data it collects — including in-app purchase data that Apple collects from within apps owned by other companies — to improve the efficacy of Apple's own ads products. And, if people don't want Apple using their data for ads, they'll have to go find the control deep within their iPhone settings."

If Apple's ploy is to improve their bottom line in the name of user privacy, I have a problem with it, and everyone else should too, because it's monopolistic behaviour that will hurt everyone but them.

Facebook Doesn't Have a Choice

If Facebook doesn't comply with Apple:

"we'll face retaliation from Apple, which could only further harm the businesses we want to support. We can't take that risk."

Facebook, like every other company, has no option but to comply with Apple's new policy.

Whether it's right or not, Apple is the one with the higher ground in this feud.

How Will iOS 14.5 Affect Small Businesses Using Facebook Ads to Grow Their Business?

As much as Apple claims that their AppTrackingTransparency policy is the best thing to protect users privacy, it will have consequences for the small businesses who rely on Facebook to drive targeted traffic.

Advertising on Facebook Will Be Far Less Effective

If users are opting out of tracking in large numbers, the analytics and data that make Facebook's advertising platform so great could quickly become redundant.

In other words, the Facebook pixel won't be able to do its job, rendering it somewhat insignificant to launching, managing and scaling effective advertising campaigns.

Reduced Sales From Ads

Facebook has released multiple case studies on how website sales for small businesses will decrease due to Apple's update. However, these case studies are based on Facebook's own data, and we all know data can be bent to fit a particular narrative.

However, after considering all the different points of view, it is actually likely the loss of personalisation could result in 60% fewer website sales from Facebook advertising.

Targeting the Right Audience via Facebook Will Be Significantly Harder

The Facebook pixel allows advertisers to create lookalike, custom and remarketing audiences, contributing to more granular targeting, lower costs, and better results.

Being unable to leverage the Facebook pixel's full power will force advertisers to rely only on cold traffic, which is far from ideal, driving up small businesses' costs.

How Can You Prepare Your Facebook Business Manager for Apple's Ios 14.5 Update?

Despite all the doom and gloom, there are some practical things you can do to work around this update and maintain the effectiveness of your Facebook ads.

Verify Your Domain With Facebook

Verifying your domain on Facebook isn't new; it's always been an optional feature to help authenticate your business, but they have recommended doing it on their help centre as preparation for iOS 14.5.

There are two types of verification:

  1. Uploading a HTML file
  2. Adding DNS TXT record (most straightforward)
  3. Meta-tag Verification

Follow the steps in the video below to verify your domain by adding a TXT DNS record - it's super simple.

If you need more help, you can view Facebook's developer article for a full breakdown on how to do this - click here to check it out.

Pick Eight Conversion Events to Prioritise

Facebook is limiting the number of conversion events you can optimise your campaigns for, but this doesn't mean that you can't track more than eight web-based events; it simply means you can't optimise for more than eight in a conversion campaign.

The video below shows you how to prioritise your conversion events:

If you don't follow Facebook's recommendations and prioritise your events before iOS 14.5 takes effect, then Facebook will do it for you (not ideal).

I strongly advise doing this as soon as possible.

Understand the Change in Facebook's Conversion Attribution System

Advertisers will begin to see a decline in conversions because of Apple's privacy update. However, it's not the update itself that is causing this - the update is causing Facebook to renew its attribution framework, resulting in fewer conversions being tracked.

As stated by Social Examiner:

"An attribution window is the number of days between when a person viewed or clicked your ad and subsequently took an action. We measure ad actions based on clicks and views of your ad: Click-through attribution: A person clicked your ad and took an action."

Historically, advertisers have been able to widen Facebook's standard attribution model to 28-day click and 28-day view.

However, under iOS 14.5, Facebook will have to remove the following attribution windows:

  • 28-day click
  • 28-day view
  • 7-day view

7-day click attribution will be the default for optimisation and reporting. However, the following customisations will still be available:

  • 1-day click or view
  • 7-day click or view
  • 1-day click
  • 7-day click

It's important to note that 7-day click will be the default.

This change will cause the tracking of conversions to decline and is one of the main reasons why you'll need to think of a creative way to make up for the loss of data.

Can you think of one?

If not, don't worry. I've got you covered - one of the simplest ways to make up for the lost data is to assign UTM's to your ads, and that's exactly what we're going to talk about next.

Start Using UTMs (Unique Tracking Metrics)

Unique tracking metrics (UTM's) are characters that you assign to the end of a URL to track a marketing campaign's performance in Google Analytics.

Setting up UTM's on your Facebook ads will allow you to make up for the data you are losing due to iOS 14.5.

In the video below, I show you how to set-up UTM's on your Facebook ads:

The last click policy that Facebook is implementing is not a reliable long-term solution for verifying a campaigns' performance, which is why implementing UTM's are a good way to bridge the gap.

Update Automated Rules

A 7-day attribution model will be compulsory when iOS 14.5 comes into effect.

However, until then, you can still update your rules. Changing your automated rules to '1 day' after viewing ads is a good way to make any necessary adjustments before it becomes compulsory.

Below is a video outlining how to update your automated rules:

Additional Options to Protect Your Facebook Ads

There are some additional steps you can take to protect the effectiveness of your ads. While these are viable options, I don't exclusively recommend them. Consider them contingencies if you get really stuck.

Exclude iOS Devices From Your Ads

When setting up targeting for your Facebook ads, you can exclude iOS devices from your targeting.

Not targeting the 1.65 billion active Apple devices isn't ideal, which is why it isn't one of my primary recommendations - but it is an option if you get stuck or don't want to bother with any of the steps above.

Stop Using the Conversion Objective

Apple's update will affect the conversion objective's performance and viability, which is why you might want to avoid it altogether.

However, doing so isn't advisable, not by me anyway.

Ask for Conversion Data Sooner

If you gain conversion data sooner (names, email addresses, mobile numbers), you can upload that data back into Facebook to generate custom audiences, therefore bypassing many of the issues that this update might cause.

However, I still don't consider this best practice, and you should only do so as a last resort.

I should highlight that there is nothing wrong with uploading customer data to build an audience, but doing so as a contingency to not following the steps outlined above isn't ideal.

My Final Verdict

Anyone on the outside looking in will likely follow the narrative that Apple is implementing this policy because they care deeply about user privacy - maybe they do.

They may also ascribe to the idea that Facebook is an evil, data-hungry conglomerate that wants nothing more than to know everything about everyone - maybe they are.

However, if you look past the politics, you can see that this policy isn't just about user privacy for Apple; it's about improving their bottom line by forcing businesses, developers and creators into a business model where Apple gets a share of the revenue.

Yes, over the years, Facebook has proven time and time again that its practices aren't always ethical, aren't always in the best interests of its users and aren't always fair to its competitors.

However, it would be unreasonable to suggest that their advertising platform hasn't been a massive aid to millions of small businesses worldwide, many of which rely on the platform to attract more customers through personalised advertising.

As a consumer, I strongly agree that we need reform around the way Big Tech processes data. However, as a marketer and business owner, I fear Apple has conflated self-interest with a subject that everyone should be a part of, including Facebook.