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App Tracking Transparency & Intelligent Tracking Prevention

Apple is aggressively pursuing end-user privacy improvements and marketing them as positive enhancements to their users; at Apple’s 2021 Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC21) the company has announced several new privacy enhancements to the default applications and services within MacOS, iOS, iPadOS, and WatchOS. As with recent proposed changes to iOS14 and the App Store marketplace, the new enhancements are designed to provide transparency to end users about the ways in which they are tracked online and provide options to opt-out of tracking altogether. This will primarily take the form of increased notification popups prompting users to allow or deny permission to allow reporting of behaviors and activities from within applications, emails, and websites.

“[The changes] will arrive as part of the fall software update to iOS 15, iPadOS 15, MacOS Monterey and iCloud.com.” At the moment these OS updates appear to be scheduled for release in September of 2021.

As with the recent announcements by various providers to move to a cookie-less web in the near future, the changes Apple is introducing into its ecosystem are a clear indication that brands will need to take a thorough look at their marketing data collection procedures and usage of 3rd party services and trackers. Investments into 1st party data collection, server side analytics, and native in-app tracking events will help mitigate current and future marketing changes due to a rapidly evolving focus on user data privacy. 

App Tracking Transparency (ATT)

Starting with iOS 14.5 app developers must disclose tracking to the end-user and “ask users for their permission to track them across apps and websites owned by other companies” (see User Privacy and Data Use - App Store). This change led to a precipitous drop-off in opt-ins with nearly ~80% of the iOS 14.5+ user base choosing to decline participation in 3rd party tracking within apps. This is compounded by the iOS 14.5 adoption rate with 90% of devices released in the last 4 years running on iOS 14 and 85% of all iOS devices running iOS 14

iOS 15 will now also include the ability to run a privacy report to review “how often each app has used the permission they’ve previously granted to access their location, photos, camera, microphone, and contacts during the past seven days” and make changes as they see fit. Given the iOS 14 adoption metrics it can be presumed that the majority of iOS devices will update to iOS 15.

Intelligent Tracking Prevention (ITP)

Intelligent Tracking Prevention has been included in Safari web browser versions going back to 2017 and was originally built to protect unsuspecting end-users from agents that were surreptitiously collecting data and inputs from browser sessions. The agents targeted were primarily spyware, malware, or other scripts built for nefarious uses such as identity theft. Overtime, ITP has evolved to also provide tracking protections from a much broader set of legitimate 3rd party tracking cookies and pixels. Similar to ATT, the intention of ITP is to provide web users with transparency into how, when, and who is tracking their browsing activities. ITP has the potential to prevent 3rd party tracking cookies and even analytics events (such as Google Analytics) from properly reporting activities or attributing activities to a unique user id. Although Safari does not make up a large market share of browser sessions, this may skew web analytics and events negatively.

Safari 15 will be included in the rollout of iOS 15, iPadOS 15, and MacOS Monterey with some minor updates to ITP 2.3 such as blocking agents from recording a user’s IP address. The lack of IP availability makes it much more difficult to stitch together user profiles from other data sources and will have an impact on marketing activities such as retargeting. 

Apple is now also including ITP in other default applications with the biggest impact being the inclusion of ITP into Apple Mail. This inclusion in Apple Mail is significant to both MacOS and iOS devices as it will potentially prevent tracking pixels contained within HTML emails from loading, severely impacting email open and click metrics. This is especially concerning as the Apple Mail app in iOS currently makes up 38.9% of total email client market share. Desktop Apple Mail makes up 11.5% of market share for a total impact of potentially 50% of all users sent marketing emails not reporting basic email metric information.

Link decoration has been a common work around to some of the challenges that ITP has presented wherein data is included in the URL query string of links that can be detected and read on the target server. Another approach is to pass links through a proxy service that tracks clicks and attribution before redirecting to the intended destination. This allows 3rd party services to exchange information about a user to each other without cookies or database connections. Common examples of link decoration include Google UTM parameters for GA attribution or Facebook Client IDs for FB conversion pixels. Link decoration detection and suppression have been part of ITP since version 2.2 and its inclusion in Apple Mail makes tracking pixel workarounds within emails incredibly difficult and not worthwhile. 

In addition as a result of these changes to cookie policy in ITP, all Safari client cookies not set explicitly with a “Set Cookie” http header will expire in one day. On subsequent visits outside the initial 1-day timeframe, the user would be tracked as a new visitor. These non-explicit cookies are typically assigned from Javascript snippets using the “document.cookie” method. The forced expiration of cookie trackers especially affects tracking of anonymous visitors who have not been identified to the app/web-site via a 1st party login mechanism. The forced expiration of cookies in this manner makes it harder to track full user journeys as there are no easy solutions to link customer touch-points. 

iCloud Plus: Hide My Email & Private Relay

Apple has also updated iCloud with a new iCloud Plus subscription option that includes two new privacy features: Hide My Email and Private Relay.

Hide My Email allows the user to generate a one-off alias email address for use in marketing forms as a means to protect the user’s true email address; Apple will allow the user no limit to the number of aliases in use. Since the user will potentially sign up with multiple email aliases across different services it removes a key piece of personal information used in data stitching across various data sources.

Private Relay is effectively an Apple provided VPN service that uses a double blind strategy to ensure that the user’s web activities are hidden from their ISP and Apple. With Private Relay in effect there will be no ability for IP tracking to occur in any browser or application while the user is connected.

Since iCloud Plus is a paid subscription service it is unclear as to what the adoption rate may be across Apple devices but it can be estimated based on reported subscriptions across other Apple services to be in the 100M+ market share.

In Summary

  • Transparency and notification to end-users of 3rd party tracking has become a de-facto standard within Apple ecosystem
  • User who are provided notification and opt-in/opt-out decision buttons select to opt-out the majority of the time as has been shown with iOS ATT notifications
  • Primary keys such as email address and IP address are increasingly being obfuscated on Apple devices making user data augmentation and stitching of customer profiles increasingly difficult
  • ITP is targeting workaround mechanisms such as link decoration, proxy servers, unique user ID (UUID) assignments, and social media buttons to prevent unintentional data sharing from end-users which is making conversion and attribution tracking increasingly difficult from Apple devices and browsers
  • Inclusion of ITP into Apple mail clients may severely impact basic email metric reporting and any downstream campaign logic or optimizations built on basic email KPIs (e.g. open email triggers next campaign step)
  • Continued evolution of privacy evaluations and criteria in ITP may impact conversion tracking, attribution, and basic web metric reporting from Safari based browsers 
  • Any easy technical workarounds to ITP are likely to be suppressed in future ITP updates as has been shown in ITP development history so far
  • Owned technologies and platform solutions are very resource intensive but provide brands a more future-proof solution in an evolving privacy landscape

Conclusion

With all of the proposed privacy changes to the Apple ecosystem as well as changes in the broader Internet software market it is becoming increasingly key for brands to own and architect their own data collection mechanisms as a means to ensure meaningful marketing signals are still accessible. Efforts should be made across several workstreams:

  • Increase 1st party data collection through owned channels so that key identifiers such as email, name, contact information are collected
    • Drive collection via compelling content
      • Exclusive promos
      • Exclusive content
      • Uniqure offers or forms of loyalty programs
      • Rotating editorial content
      • Exemplary service such as concierge services
      • Foster 2-way conversations
    • Store data in owned data warehouses or data lakes
  • Increase conversion of anonymous users to registered users to enable deeper behavioral tracking and prevent ITP and VPN blockage of key metrics by utilizing identifiable 1st party app sessions (cookies)
  • Reduce reliance on 3rd party vendors and service providers including
    • Data brokers (list buys)
    • SaaS analytics
    • Data insights augmented with non 1st party data
    • Channel attribution from 3rd party mechanisms such as query string links (see below)
    • Social media login mechanisms that don’t generate a local session
  • Where possible implement owned server side analytics to track key events and ensure continued capture of behaviors that enable marketing segmentation
    • Key app events (both web and mobile)
    • Key page/screen views
    • Registrations and logins
  • Evaluate experiments, optimizations or smart campaign flows that rely on open and click email metrics for potential impact
    • Drip campaigns are of particular concern
  • Evaluate usage of attribution or other data sharing through URL query string parameters or proxy domains (such as link shortening services)
    • These are potentially impacted by ITP

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Lessons from Dr. Pooja Lakshmin on Burnout & Boundaries

Last week I had the opportunity to attend Ad Club’s Women’s Leadership Forum. It was inspiring to hear so many accomplished women share their knowledge and experiences with us. As a young female professional, early on in the grand scheme of my career, it was refreshing to hear about a topic nearly everyone is impacted by but few speak about: burnout. The session, poetically called The Betrayal of Burnout, was led by Dr. Pooja Lakshmin, a psychiatrist and author specializing in women’s mental health.   Burnout is a word that feels all too familiar to many of us — especially in this past year and a half during the pandemic, where it’s been challenging to separate work life from home life when they are taking place in the same space. Dr. Lakshmin poignantly suggested the term ‘burnout’ itself exonerates a system that does not do enough to support mental health, working parents, or child care. According to Dr. Lakshmin, the most frequent response to an individual expressing burnout is “Are you going to therapy?”, or “Are you doing self-care?”. This, she claims, places the burden of responsibility onto the person, and not onto a system that is evidently flawed. Faux self-care practices like yoga, meditation and spa retreats will not solve the problems that come with burnout. Those are privileged solutions that many people do not have access to, and oftentimes are not long-term solutions. The only thing that worked for her was learning how to say no and setting proper boundaries. Below are a few important lessons that Dr. Lakshmin shared to help women set boundaries in their professional lives. The outcome? Increases in quality of work and client satisfaction are just a few of the benefits that stem from women in the workplace setting boundaries and avoiding burnout. No one is going to make the choices for you and your best interest — you must make those for yourself.  As women, Dr. Lakshmin says, we tend to put ourselves last. She warns that getting into a “martyr mode” comes with a cost. In order to truly prioritize your mental health, you need to make space for yourself. Whether it’s setting your Slack status to “Away” to take that midday walk that gives you a mental reprieve, or declining to take on a new project that would strain your already tight bandwidth  — these are the decisions we can make for our own mental health that help make us more focused while we are working and more easily unplug when we aren’t. Communicate your priorities to the people in your life.  Dr. Lakshmin encourages women to decide what your values are in your current season of life. Different seasons bring different priorities. Some seasons, she suggests, are for prioritizing your family, and some are for your professional work. You can communicate those to the people in your life. For example, if it’s important to you to have dinner with your family, then let your colleagues and clients know that you’ll be offline at 6pm. Setting those expectations creates clear boundaries your team and clients can respect. Sharing these priorities also humanizes us and can encourage our team and clients to do the same, creating a more empathetic workplace for all.  Feeling guilt does not mean you’re making the wrong choice.  Dr. Lakshmin recognizes that sometimes when we set boundaries as women, we feel a sense of guilt for putting ourselves first. In a society that conditions women to be the caretakers, this is an all too common reaction. She instead offers to think of your guilt as a faulty check engine light: just because you feel guilty does not mean something is wrong or that you’re making the wrong choice. Reframe it as building up your muscle to tolerate self-care.  Most importantly, Dr. Lakshmin reiterates, when you’re feeling burnt out, try to remind yourself this is a systemic issue. This is not something that we as women are creating for ourselves; instead, we are simply reacting to it. We must remember self-care is a verb, not a noun, and the real work is internal. We need to get our feelings out in a trusted space whether that’s with our partner, mentor, or friend. Holding those feelings inside will only work against us. Just like Dr. Lakshmin, when you take the risk to advocate for what you need and want in the workplace, you're empowering the women that are coming behind you as well as making yourself a better employee and partner to your clients. 

Most Popular House Plants Based On Search

We have all had different coping mechanisms since the pandemic began. Stuck inside, many of us realized how lifeless our living spaces were. Some of us opted to adopt a living, breathing, loveable dog (see Sean Adams’ article on the top quarantine pooches), but for many who were not ready to take that plunge – we chose another way to bring life inside. Yes, I’m talking about houseplants. Houseplants became a newfound passion for many during their days in quarantine, and existing plant parents only seemed to expand their brood. Time seemingly has ground to a halt for the past year, and new leaves on my plants remain one of the only ways I am convinced that any time has passed at all.  To a pedestrian, keeping a plant alive may seem like child’s play. However as many of us new plant enthusiasts have learned, it is anything but. Many plants are sensitive, needy, and dare I say dramatic (looking at you, polka-dot plant!). As always when in doubt about really anything at all, troubled Americans turned to Google for help in their plant-parenting journey. THE MOST POPULAR INDOOR PLANT DURING THE PANDEMIC: BATTLE OF THE PLANTS We pulled historical data for the most searched houseplant keywords to see if the supposed quarantine plant craze is real (it is), and after that we set out to determine the ultimate pandemic plant. What was the most popular indoor plant during quarantine? Read on, reader. N.B. We have done our best to account for data related to Seth Rogan’s new business “Houseplant”   First, to prove I am completely normal for acquiring over thirty plants since last March, we looked at thousands of the most searched queries for the past several years that contained the phrase “houseplant” or “house plant” (yes, it makes a difference to Google). You can see plants were enjoying some popularity in 2019, but their moment in the sun truly arrived right as quarantine began. They saw some drop off over the winter, but are on the rise again this spring. This may be because plants don’t do as great in the winter, or because this winter was particularly depressing and we could all barely take care of ourselves, let alone our plants. All in all, house plant queries increased 97% between February and May 2020, when they began to total over half a million searches per month.  So, lots of folks decided that watching plants grow was more entertaining than anything else they were doing. Any millennial could have told you that. We wanted more; we wanted to know the absolute hottest quarantine plant. We wanted to know, if put to the test, who would prevail in a(n epic) battle of the plants? MOST POPULAR HOUSE PLANTS To start our investigation, we first gathered a list of common houseplants and plugged them into our search listening tools to find out the most searched plant types. We didn’t stop there, because we wanted to know not only the most Googled house plants in general, but the one that saw the biggest spike in popularity during quarantine. Of our list of 60+ common plants, the only one that did not see an increase in search interest between March and May of 2020 was aloe vera (go figure).  The most searched overall during May of 2020 -- the height of the plant craze -- was lily of the valley, followed by orchid and snake plant.      HIGHEST QUARANTINE SEARCH INTEREST   When we looked at which plant had the most dramatic change of search volume from the pandemic, certain plants stood out.        Although searches for lily of the valley skyrocketed during quarantine (+307% from March to May!), other plants made it out better with sustained interest post-spike. Notably, snake plants (+124%) and philodendrons (+124%) have held onto their newfound popularity quite well. Begonias (+233%) and hostas (+307%) and the lily of the valley both enjoyed lots of spring interest, but searches fell off in the winter. Today, they are rising once again to easily beat 2019 numbers.  Why are people searching for these particular plants? We took a deeper dive to see what questions people ask Google about their photosynthesizing friends.   ARE LILY OF THE VALLEY POISONOUS? You may be asking yourself: How cool even is lily of the valley? In short, it’s cute, smells good and will bloom in the off season if you keep it inside. Sounds good on the surface level, but we found there may be a dark side to this sweet lil’ plant.  https://s7d1.scene7.com/is/image/terrain/53318663_000_a?$zoom2$    It turns out the most searched question related to Lily of the Valley did not have to do with their soil preferences or water schedule. Instead, searchers wanted to know: Are lily of the valley poisonous? (yikes!) Well, are they? Yes! Lilies of the valley are very poisonous to humans, dogs and cats. Do not, we repeat, do not chop up some lily of the valley for your next summer salad. If you don’t have kids, pets or you are just trying to go full Breaking Bad, Lily of the Valley might be the perfect fit for you. If your life is otherwise fulfilling and you don’t want to casually keep poison in your home, maybe consider another plant.   HOW OFTEN TO WATER SNAKE PLANT? Ah yes, the forgiving snake plant, also known as “mother in law’s tongue” (rude!), is a favorite among those who struggle to keep a pet rock happy. First-time snake plant owners want to get down to basics, (probably hoping to keep a plant alive, for once) so their most popular question was how often to water a snake plant? Snake plants like dryness and do not need much water at all. In fact, it’s more likely you will overwater your snake plant than the chances it will perish of thirst. Adjust accordingly, but a snake plant really only needs to be watered once every two weeks. Make sure you give it a good drink!    https://www.thespruce.com/thmb/3ZzeafMMYBupme3O5dodMz3uoxI=/2048x1545/filters:no_upscale():max_bytes(150000):strip_icc()/snake-plant-care-overview-1902772-04-3f69d04885af4613bf2eda197704fe20.jpg    HOW TO GROW BEGONIAS?  Begonias are hideous (I said it) yet still somehow achieved huge popularity during the initial months of quarantine. Yes, they have beautiful flowers. Yes, they come in a huge variety of size and shape. However, if you aren’t ready to wait for it to bloom (could be years if you are a mediocre plant parent), you’re gonna get real sick of looking at those misshapen crinkly hunks of leaves. Trust me.    https://images-na.ssl-images-amazon.com/images/I/91awtOV4jTL._AC_SL1500_.jpg They happen to look pretty cool in this picture.   Popular questions searched about begonias are quite innocuous compared to the deathly lily of the valley. In fact, one of the most popular questions was simply how to grow begonias? To which I would say, the only thing you have to remember is to not water it too much. Or too little. Also, it needs a good amount of sun, but also do not put it in a window with too much light. Oh, also, I’m sure you’ll do great at the whole plant thing, but don’t forget to fertilize it. But be very careful to not over fertilize! Prune it in the summer, but not too early. See? Plant parenthood is a piece of cake.    HOW TO PROPAGATE PHILODENDRON?  Philodendrons are the standbys of the plant world. Picture any plant right now, and there’s a good chance it's some variety of philodendron. Some of them have vines, some grow straight up and collectively they are all the craze. There are so many varieties, all seemingly unrelated to the next. There are the ultra-trendy monsteras, with their huge swiss-cheese leaves. Then there’s its cousin, the silver philodendron, that has shiny metallic patches on its leaves that cascade down vines.   http://cdn.shopify.com/s/files/1/0150/6262/products/the-sill_silver-satin_variant_small_grant_terracotta.jpg?v=1621860945 https://www.gardeningknowhow.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/cheese-plant.jpg  Seriously, how are these plants related?!   Philodendrons are living in their golden age; everyone wants a piece. So it’s no wonder one of the most popular questions was how to propagate philodendron? To propagate a philodendron, the primary thing you need is courage, especially if it’s your first time (listen, I know it is scary chopping up your babies). With clean scissors or a knife, you’re going to need to lop off a leaf node from somewhere on your plant. Anywhere a leaf grows out of is the magic spot that needs to come with your new plant cutting so it will grow new roots and can be healthy by the time you gift it as a thoughtful housewarming present to your friend. Once you’ve secured a chunk of plant that includes a node, it will have to be placed in soil or water until it grows those oh-so-important root systems. Usually after a few weeks your plant cutting will grow roots and can be replanted!   SO WHO WON THE BATTLE OF THE PLANTS? We officially decree a tie between lily of the valley and snake plants as the ultimate champions of quarantine plant battle. Although lily of the valley had stronger overall interest during the height of the plant craze, the snake plant has managed to hold on tight to its increased popularity and benefitted the most from our collective suffering. Essentially, the winners are “poison” and “an outdated joke about mothers in law.” Congratulations! Now, only one question remains: will these two plants reign supreme in 2021? We’ll have to wait and see.   A BIT ABOUT AMP SEO Every day, there are 3.5 billion Google searches about everything under the sun (including plants). Google is everyones’ most trusted adviser, strategist, and confidant. To know what people search for is to know their true concerns. After all, why would you lie to Google? And if enough people search for the same thing, our search listening tools can pick it up, and we can analyze the inner workings of American minds. By utilizing our Search Intelligence services, AMP can help you unlock a trove of valuable market intelligence data sourced directly from the Google queries of your customers. If you have an interest in analyzing search data to drive brand & business decisions or in monitoring search data on an ongoing basis for up-to-date audience insights, you may want to learn more about our SEO agency services.

Takeaways from The 2021 Women's Leadership Forum

On the eve of AMP’s quarterly mental health office closure, a group of AMP’s female associates virtually gathered to attend 2021 The Women’s Leadership Forum hosted by Ad Club. The tagline of this year’s event, Nevertheless, She Persisted, was a foreshadowing of the primary theme throughout each session: persistence. By extension, this stands out as a reflection of an AMP core value: growth.  Fighting Invisibility   Gender and ethnicity also served as contextual backdrops for the stories told within each session. Award-winning author Gish Jen discussed her experience of becoming a novelist as an Asian American woman and the outside responses this frequently evoked. Being questioned as to why she wasn’t writing stories set in China was a common occurrence for Jen, and she explained that experiences like these often leave Asian Americans feeling invisible. But instead of playing the role of “professional victim”, as Jen puts it, she chose to stand her ground. Her decided response: “Do Asians write about these topics? They do now.”    Making Intentional Choices  This notion of choice recurred throughout several sessions, with speakers explaining that having intentional responses to negative situations has profoundly shaped their journeys. Former NWHL Player & Pro Scout Blake Bolden owns that her successes have always come from the choices that she’s made. Growing up as a Black female, she had to rely largely on herself to make these choices as the sport lacked other Black females whom she could look up to. Now, Bolden is able to be that role model for other young women. “When you decide to wake up an choose to be better every single day, you’re not just making in an impact on yourself, but you could also be making an impact on someone else,” she noted while retelling the story of meeting a young Black girl who’d been inspired by Holden to play hockey. It was then that Holden realized she wasn’t just playing for herself, she was also playing for the people that she inspires. “You always have an option to choose,” she says.    Being Kind To Yourself  That said, getting better every day doesn’t mean working around-the-clock and ignoring burnout. To visual artist Nancy Floyd, giving herself permission to reflect and reset has allowed her to rediscover her passion for artistic endeavors that she’s become disinterred in. “Take baby steps,” she advises. “You don’t want to work out? Drive to the gym, and if you still don’t want to work out, drive home.” While she certainly isn’t a procrastinator, self-forgiveness and kind inner talk live at the center of Floyd’s creative process.    Staying The Course  During another session led by Wendy Ong, U.S. President of TaP Music & TaP records, listeners learned about her unconventional journey from a small apartment in Singapore to leading record labels and discovering top talent in the U.S. After moving to the U.S. with her then-husband, Ong did everything she could to land a job in the music industry, including blindly knocking on doors at record companies in NYC. After finally breaking into the scene, Ong experienced several years of success before a particularly disheartening experience at a label that left her wanting to quit the industry and return to Singapore. With the encouragement of her parents, she decided to keep marching towards her dreams. Now, as the President of a major U.S. record label, paving the way for other young women in the industry has become one of her primary passions. Noting that she wouldn’t want others to face the same struggles, she goes out of her way to “dust off the path for others so they can start their journey a little easier”.    Becoming Unstoppable  Each of these women come from vastly different backgrounds. Unwaveringly, though, throughout their stories we are met first with persistence and then with growth. We quickly learn that when determination is combined with intentional choices, self-forgiveness and the understanding that actions can lead to positive change for not just the person taking action but others who look up to them as well, we become unstoppable.