The new iOS AppTrackingTransparency framework

An iOS 14 tracking change is coming, and Facebook is not pleased per their 12/16/2020 blog post “Preparing our partners for iOS 14: Mobile Web Advertising“. This tracking change includes a new AppTrackingTransparency (ATT) framework that requires apps to show a prompt forcing users to choose between “Don’t Allow” or “OK” granting the app permission to “track you across apps and websites owned by other companies“.

Prior to this move by Apple, Facebook had an opt-out approach to such app tracking permissions. By default, full tracking is engaged, and you have to proactively adjust settings to change that state. The ATT prompt in essence requires users to explicitly opt-in to allow such tracking, and it seems most (at least many) users are likely to not allow it.

8 conversion events limitation coming soon to Facebook

In early 2021 when Apple requires the ATT prompt, Facebook will introduce “Aggregated Event Measurement” (AEM) in Events Manager. Advertisers will be required to identify “8 conversion events per domain (i.e., 8 <pixel, event> or <custom conversion> per domain)” in Events Manager, but apparently will not need to make changes to pixel or Conversions API implementations.

Two big call outs about the 8 events limit:

  1. Events will be ranked (automatically by Facebook at first, but sort order & events included can be adjusted). If a user that declines the ATT prompt executes more than one event, only the highest ranked event will be recorded. For users that allow tracking per the ATT prompt, up to 8 events will be recorded (none of the 8 are dropped).
  2. The 8 event limit is specific to optimization; additional events and/or custom conversions can be used for audience building.

Limiting events like this is probably a function of the statistical modeling Facebook will need to employ to account for the loss of data from iOS 14 users. It would be very expensive in terms of processing to support an unlimited number of events.

To ensure your ability to configure conversion events, Facebook will also require that you verify your domain using the steps outlined in the Facebook Help Center. This is especially important for pixels used by more than one Business Manager or personal ad account.

Do this now

Immediate actions:

  1. Verify your domain. This will be tricky as you need to be a Business Manager user with admin permission to make it happen. You’ll need to figure out if your business or your agency needs to act, and your development team may need to help with the verification process.
  2. Plan for a Facebook ad strategy where you only have 8 conversions events (pixel event or custom conversion) to use for optimization. Events beyond those 8 are paused, and any ad sets that optimize for paused events will also be paused. If you don’t verify your domain and select the 8 events yourself, Facebook will select the 8 events it thinks are most important automatically. And don’t forget the possibility that all but the highest ranked event could be dropped for a user that declines the ATT prompt.
    • You also need to be a Business Manager user to edit / add events in AEM (i.e., those with partner access don’t seem to be able to use this tool).

Educate yourself – consider these additional potential impacts:

  • This really hurts publishers getting revenue from showing ads on the Facebook Audience Network, which allows Facebook advertisers to place ads on other apps. This move by Apple may so debilitate the Audience Network that Facebook may stop offering it for ad placements on iOS 14 devices. Advertisers might think twice before placing ads on the Audience Network given this development.
  • Facebook may change their app to open the native web browser on the mobile device by default instead of presenting linked web content in the in-app browser. Seems they may have more ability to track in that scenario, especially if the user has a non-Safari native web browser. See “open question about the Safari (in-app) browser” below.
  • Seems like this would make email campaigns more valuable too – assuming links therein would open native device browser and not in-app browser versions.
  • You should know the iOS exposure for your digital property to understand how much this change impacts you. You already should know your Safari exposure to have your hands around the impact of Safari ITP 2.1 / 2.2 / 2.3.
  • Facebook dynamic ads will not be impacted, except for potentially shrinking audience sizes (and possibly reduced conversion attribution).
  • If you choose to engage “value optimization” (see requirements to have this enabled) for an event, you’ll configure at least 4 “value sets” in the same UI where you rank order events for AEM (consuming at least 4 of your 8 allotted events). Each value set will represent a range of value (e.g., 0 to 50, or 50 to 150, etc.). It seems you’ll be able to add more than 4 value sets if appropriate (further reducing what is left from the 8 allotted events). Optimization will be performed relative to the highest value set range. Purchases will be recored in / assigned to a given value set based on where the purchase value falls in the respective value sets ranges (i.e., optimization does not consider the actual purchase value).
  • This move by Apple will accelerate Facebook simplifying attribution windows. Say goodbye to 28-day click-through, 28-day view-through, and 7-day view-through attribution windows, except with historical data. Default attribution window will be 7-day click, with the option to add 1-day view-through. Attribution windows will eventually be set at the ad set level to match conversion objectives.
  • An important note about impact on attribution from FB help center article “Changes we made to Attribution Settings on January 19“: For active ad sets, the attribution setting will continue using the deprecated conversion window setting to avoid impact to ad delivery for ongoing ad sets. This may, however, result in a decrease in the number of reported conversions for advertisers who were previously using an account-level attribution window that is no longer available, like 28-day click and 1-day view. Also note that for active ad sets, your previous account level attribution window setting will not be used for reporting after January 19.It is probable that more conversions will actually occur than are recorded in Facebook Analytics and/or attributed to ads in Facebook Ads Manager.
  • When you target a prospecting audience –and– exclude existing customers, you’ll start seeing existing customers in the combined targeting (i.e., some existing customers will see those prospecting ads).

Important links:
Preparing our partners for iOS 14: Mobile Web Advertising
About Domain Verification in Business Manager
How Apple’s iOS 14 Release May Affect Your Ads
Use Facebook Pixel to Reach Devices on iOS 14
When to Use Domain Verification to Verify Your Business

An open question about the Safari (in-app) browser

For some retail client websites we are seeing as much as 50% of sessions coming from iOS devices / Safari browsing users, with about 15% of all sessions associated with Safari “(in-app)” browsers. I assume a user selecting “Don’t Allow” to the ATT prompt would impact Safari (in-app) browsing as well.

Question: Does the iOS 14 Safari browser, or a third party browser like Chrome on an iPhone, get treated like an app regarding the ATT prompt requirement?

iOS 14 impact on Facebook mobile advertising