Apple vs. Facebook: The Fight Over IDFA and the Impact on Mobile App Marketers

By Katie Secret, Director of Product Marketing, Outbrain

Today’s advertising triopoly is known — Facebook, Google, and most recently, Amazon. But a fourth player has remained inextricably linked to Facebook’s successes and position — Apple.

In-app advertising has become a key portion of Facebook’s nearly $70 billion in annual advertising revenue. Not surprising, considering the vast majority of consumers browse Facebook via the Facebook app itself. That reliance on in-app revenue has led to a notoriously tenuous push-and-pull relationship with Apple — who ultimately holds the keys to user identity across Apple devices, and corresponding targeting and attribution across third-party apps.

Apple’s announcement of iOS 14 —and the changes it would bring to device/user identification — was the latest blow to Facebook’s deteriorating relationship with the tech giant. Soon, iOS 14 will limit apps’ ability to leverage IDFA (Apple’s unique identifier for each consumer device) for the purpose of user tracking, targeting, and attribution between apps — starting in early 2021.

Facebook issued a statement in August denouncing the change and highlighting the fact that it wouldn’t only plummet Facebook’s own advertising revenue — but that it would also make Facebook Audience Network, a source of revenue for publishers, essentially obsolete.

Interestingly enough, this led to Mark Zuckerberg then leaning into how Apple’s changes will impact publishers and small businesses, rather than Facebook itself.

Zuckerberg’s commentary on the impact iOS 14 will have on 2021’s economic recovery notably came less than one week before the 2020 U.S. Election. Coincidence, or perfect timing to deflect focus on Facebook’s inability to stop the spread of false political advertising and fake news across the platform?

Regardless of Zuckerberg’s intentions, we do know that iOS 14 will have impacts ranging far and wide beyond Facebook. So what exactly will iOS 14 mean for mobile app marketers, and how can they prepare for 2021’s looming changes?

The Battle Over IDFA

Apple’s announcement of iOS 14 during WWDC 2020 sent shockwaves through the mobile app world, as it meant that the ability for apps to optimize campaigns using deterministic, user-based data, will soon be gone.

Facebook quickly made their stance clear, announcing they would not be participating in Apple’s framework to ask for user consent to use IDFA to “track activity across third-party apps.” Instead, it’s likely Facebook will move to alternative, probabilistic methods to help app marketers optimize and attribute.

So What’s Next for Mobile App Marketers?

For the individual app marketers who rely on Facebook to acquire new customers and boost revenue — what’s next? Most platforms are still attempting to navigate this storm and identify ways to honor user privacy while delivering solutions for marketers of all sizes.

Apple’s own attribution solution, SKAdNetwork, will limit the number of campaigns marketers can track and optimize at one time, and will certainly reduce the visibility marketers have into their performance across apps. Other mobile attribution partners, like Appsflyer and Adjust, are working to formulate their own solutions to continue to add value.

One positive takeaway from the iOS 14 update is the fact that it levels the playing field for all platforms and marketers. In turn, marketers will begin to look to other platforms to diversify their ad spend outside of walled gardens.

Diversification, Outside of the Walled Gardens

2020 has already seen a shift away from Facebook, with #StopHateforProfit and the Facebook Boycott gaining popularity in response to hate speech and false information on the platform. Following those campaigns, a bigger battle surfaced — one focused on the spread of misinformation and brand adjacency.

Expanding outside of the walled gardens to the open web will bear near-term benefits for app marketers looking to continue to effectively attribute their campaign performance in 2021. The open web provides an opportunity to engage audiences as they consume quality journalism rather than uncontrolled user-generated content — and it gives app marketers the opportunity to capitalize on scalable mobile web traffic. 2021 will likely see that trend continue as marketers re-examine what brand safety and quality truly means to them.

By expanding strategies to focus on both in-app traffic and mobile web traffic across premium publishers, app marketers can continue to drive app installs while retaining more ability to optimize and attribute.

As app marketers, and marketers in general, prepare for the changes 2021 will bring, they should look to truly diversify across platforms that can offer the same performance as platforms like Facebook.