Why Apple Improving Privacy Has Marketers Upset

Apple announced a bunch of new stuff yesterday including the release date of the newest version of their mobile operating system, iOS10. You can read about all of the enhancements here (or just about any other place on the interweb) but one thing you probably won’t hear about piqued my interest because it gets to the question with respect to ad blocking that we’ve pondered before here on the screed.

First, a little tech talk. Apple has something called IDFA – Identifier For Advertising – that they use instead of a simple UDID (your device ID) or a cookie (which don’t work well in the mobile space). It’s used to track you, serve you ads, and also for privacy controls. What they’re doing in iOS10 will change how the IDFA behaves. When you opt in to limit ad tracking, the IDFA will return a string of zeros, effectively opting the user out of advertising. It will also prevent the previously permitted “frequency capping, attribution, conversion events, estimating the number of unique users, advertising fraud detection, and debugging” uses of this ID.

Needless to say, many in the ad world are very unhappy. “Ad blocking is stealing” according to the IAB. Pretty harsh, but I get that it’s a reflection of the disruption in the attention/value equation that underpins much of digital commerce. Here is the thing, though. Other media, many of which were built on the same equation, suffer from ad blocking and yet have figured out other business models. One blocks ads on TV either by watching on a delayed basis and skipping through the ads or by changing the channel until the program returns. Way back in the ’70’s, my fellow TV execs cringed at the thought of VCR‘s and felt they would irreparably harm the business. That thinking was repeated when DVR‘s (now at over 70% penetration) came out. Both lines of thinking were wrong.

The same is true of radio. No one is thinking about removing the buttons from your car that make it easy to change channels, nor is anyone thinking taking away your TV remotes would be a good thing. Ad blocking in print is as easy as turning the page. There is research that found people only fast-forward through about half of all ads during playback, and other research has found that even fast-forwarded ads make an impression on viewers. Even so, the business model for TV has changed a lot, and “ad blocking” was part of the impetus for that.

Maybe instead of worrying about Apple (or consumers, for that matter) doing what they can both to improve the web and mobile experience and to protect privacy, those of us involved in the digital marketing ecosystem need to keep refining our business models and whine a lot less? What do you think?

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Filed under digital media, Reality checks

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