The New Reality – Data Collection in iOS14

Data collection has changed, and Mobile Measurement is changing. We’re all on an epic adventure! Here’s what you need to know about staying ahead of tracking issues in the new world of iOS14.

On September 16th, the world of measurement shifted. Like Smaug slowly waking in his keep, changes deep in the operating systems of the new Apple platforms (iOS, iPadOS) are stirring the foundations of analytics, optimization, and paid media. The new reality of these measurement changes echo what professionals saw with the rollout of Apple’s anti-tracking technology, Intelligent Tracking Prevention 2.1 for Safari, in early 2019.

These changes are ominous. If marketing and analytics professionals are on a grand adventure trying to stitch together their customer journeys, there are certainly some hidden challenges in the way now. In the past, we’ve been able to see perilous trials ahead for our customers and businesses—lurking, time-wasting trolls, say, or data-skewing, program-derailing dragons.

But Apple’s new changes will eliminate some types of cookies, which means we won’t see those perils any longer, which can lead to (among other frustrations) inaccurate measurement of retention traffic, underreporting of attribution for paid campaign performance, issues with resegmentation, and sharp declines in remarketing capabilities and measurement.

New browser privacy changes mean we won’t have the same view as we used to. And while that doesn’t exactly mean the world as we’ve known it is gone, it does mean that the landscape of our tracking and measurement world is changed. Goodbye Shire, hello Misty Mountains.

And even more changes are coming. Let’s try to focus on our quest and keep the villages from burning down, shall we?

So what happened that I go on to make such grand claims?

Apple has two changes working together that shift web application development, and, by extension, everything built upon it.

  1. In their App Guidelines, Apple required application developers to migrate to the WkWebView class for handling browser-like behavior prior to December 2020, after which they will no longer accept apps into the AppStore using the legacy UIWebView class.
  2. Apple added Intelligent Tracking Prevention to WkWebView by default, as they announced they would at June’s World Wide Developer Conference.

Taken together, this means that ALL Web Browser functionality (Web Browsers, in-app Browsers, etc.) must use the WkWebView class for that functionality by December 2020, and, once they do, those browsers will gain Intelligent Tracking Prevention by default.

This can not be disabled by the browser in question nor the site being visited. Users can elect to navigate a series of menus in the settings of the operating system to disable the feature, but I strongly suspect few users will set out on such a quest.

Effectively this will, by the end of 2020, make nearly all the web browsing traffic from Apple’s Mobile Ecosystems subject to Intelligent Tracking Prevention. This will occur in ever-increasing numbers as the adoption rate of iOS14 and iPadOS14 climbs in the coming months.

What does this mean for companies?

Since ITP now affects all browsers in Apple’s mobile Ecosystem, tracking those visitors is increasingly difficult. When you can’t identify visitors, you can’t optimize marketing spend, utilize personalization, or get representative A/B testing insights.

Data Collection Flowchart

How it does so is a complex series of rules, but summed up can be looked at as: Cookies set via JavaScript will expire in 7 days, unless the previous page was a known tracker (as identified by Apple’s Machine Learning on the device) and has link decoration in which case it would last 24 hours.

The impact to systems may include (but is not limited to) the following:

  • Inaccurate measurement of Retention traffic. ‘New’ Users will increase, retention will decrease.
  • A loss of accuracy of Paid Media campaigns and campaign performance for Return on Ad Spend.
  • Underreporting of attribution for paid campaign performance (potentially miscategorized as “direct,” which will see inflated numbers).
  • Issues with resegmention, affecting Optimization testing efforts.
  • Sharp declines in Remarketing capabilities and measurement.

In the coming months, I will be publishing posts that break down these effects, so that the practitioners most affected by the changes will have definitive guides as changes occur.

For now, we’re also keeping a cache of resources here.

Also, Search Discovery is helping companies stay ahead of browser privacy changes by offering FREE audits to identify the impact these changes will have on their websites. 

But does it stop there? Sadly, no.

While browsers will gain Intelligent Tracking Prevention, they will also have their existing browser protection safeguards. For example, Firefox will have Intelligent Tracking Prevention and Enhanced Tracking Protection. Thus the privacy feature set of the non-Safari browsers will potentially double.

So what if you want to disable these new features?

Let’s take a look at Firefox.

To disable Firefox’s Enhanced Tracking Protection, go to the Firefox App settings, as shown here: Settings > Tracking Protection.

Screen Shot 2020 09 18 at 1.46.05 PM

But turning that off, does not disable Intelligent Tracking Prevention. To disable that you have to navigate to Settings > Firefox from the Operating System Settings and toggle Allow Cross Domain Tracking to ‘on.’

Screen Shot 2020 09 18 at 1.48.13 PM

So what can you do?

 

  1. Organizations should review their systems, reporting, and marketing plans in light of this new information.
  2. Get a free audit of your site to help identify how your site is being impacted by the browser privacy changes.
  3. Carefully consider if Remarketing will be effective on iOS/iPadOS traffic (because often it won’t be, due to the innate blocking of 3rd party cookies).
  4. Work with IT teams to understand and modify systems to work in a ITP compliant way.
  5. Or reach out to us on the form below. We’ll work with you to come up with a plan to understand and mitigate the impact to your specific systems and processes.

The news is less good than we like, and a certain darkness falls. But the end of one age harkens the dawn of another, and the world isn’t ending— just changing. We must summon our courage, take our little lanterns to the hills ahead, and undertake the quest to change, too. Good tidings!

Questions? Concerns? Ideas? Pipes? Epic Ballads? Let’s talk.

Fill out this form and we’ll guide you through this new territory.

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