Facebook Ramps Up Battle Against Apple's iOS 14 Privacy Changes

Tanner Heslop, Associate Manager

Facebook is once again ratcheting up the pressure in their months-long battle with Apple over privacy protections on Apple mobile devices. The social media giant announced that they will comply with Apple's proposed restrictions on iOS Identifier for Advertisers (IDFA), while at the same time launching a PR barrage against Apple, claiming that their privacy policy will disproportionally hurt small businesses and developers that rely on Facebook's advertising tools.

Recently, we posted a blog post chronicling this fight between Apple and Facebook over IDFA, a privacy framework created by Apple that allows apps and marketers to track device activity at the user level. IDFA-tracked data provides advertisers like Facebook with deep visibility into user behavior, allowing them to tailor ad delivery to users on Apple mobile devices using a wide range of targeting parameters.

While IDFA has been in use for some time and app developers have been able to access it by default, new changes in the recently released iOS 14 mean Apple mobile device users will now receive an in-app prompt called AppTrackingTransparency (ATT), asking them whether they would like to allow that app’s developers to access IDFA-tracked data.

Why Is The ATT Prompt Significant?

The ATT prompt marks the first time users will be opted out of IDFA tracking by default. Even if they opt in via the prompt, an estimated 20% of Apple device users will still not be able to grant advertisers access to their IDFA due to other privacy settings, notably the Limit Ad Tracking (LAT) feature (LAT is a separate setting in Apple mobile devices that effectively opts users out of sharing their IDFA with any app on that device, and supersedes individual ATT prompts if users attempt to opt in.) The inevitable drop-off in users opting into IDFA tracking will leave Facebook with severely reduced access to a bevy of user data that feeds its algorithm and helps it determine how to serve ads to billions of users daily.

How The Battle Started

When Apple first announced the ATT prompt, Facebook warned that the new privacy setting would devastate advertisers’ abilities to effectively target users on Apple mobile devices (Apple smartphones, for context, command 40% of market share across all smartphones in the United States.) Facebook also cited internal research saying small business owners earned, on average, 60% less in sales revenue when denied access to data that IDFA opt-outs will block.

Initially, Facebook made several announcements about their intent to comply with the iOS 14 policy, including:

  • Full deprecation of IDFA tracking for iOS 14 users, eliminating the option for users to opt-in to IDFA tracking via the ATT prompt.
  • iOS 14 users would only be targetable in a different Facebook Ads UI with a unique Ad Account ID
  • Severe limits on conversion reporting
  • No iOS 14 mobile audience exclusions or retargeting

In response to harsh criticism from Facebook, Apple initially pushed back the rollout timeline for the ATT prompt to “early 2021”. Last week, however, Facebook released a statement acknowledging that while they consider the ATT prompt damaging to advertisers, they have “no choice but to show [Apple’s] prompt”. The same statement goes on to explain Facebook’s expectations for how ATT will impact different users of their ad platform.

What Does This Mean For Facebook Marketers?

iOS 14 users that opt in will still be trackable via Facebook’s ad interface, and Facebook will continue offering advertisers the ability to target those users in most standard campaigns. While conversion tracking will be negatively impacted, Facebook’s willingness to keep that functionality intact is a shift toward a more flexible approach to Apple’s impending changes.

Short-term, there will be some marginal benefits for marketers. They will at least be able to target some iOS 14 users, although we don’t yet know how large the opt-in group will be. Long-term, the likely trajectory seems unchanged – Apple (among other companies, governmental bodies, etc.) will continue to press ahead with increasingly stringent privacy standards, and Facebook will be forced to adapt.

Facebook marketers should expect a marked decline in the effectiveness of marketing to iOS 14 mobile users. We anticipate the fallout will broadly mean:

  • Mobile attribution suffering significantly
  • Exclusion quality suffering significantly
  • Retargeting audiences will be smaller and less accurate

How Should Facebook Marketers Prepare for ATT?

In September, we hypothesized that Facebook’s acquiescence suggested that they were forfeiting on this particular issue and would look for other solutions. Facing large declines in publisher revenue, Facebook is shifting strategy from a full retreat (no participation) to a partial retreat (accepting ATT prompt in-app). Taking their case to the court of public opinion, including full page newspaper advertisements and a blog post entitled “Speaking Up for Small Businesses,” is unlikely to meaningfully change the trajectory of their ongoing struggle with Apple.

With this in mind, our guidance from our September piece still holds. Marketers need to prepare for reduced in-platform measurement capabilities on Facebook and explore alternative measurement solutions.

We are again recommending that all our clients who advertise on Facebook:

  • Verify their domain in Business Manager
  • Ensure their Facebook pixel/SDK is up to date
  • Consider using Mobile Measurement Partners (MMP) to reach devices on iOS 14
  • Evaluate reliance on mobile users and mobile-first placements like Instagram Stories
  • Look at multiple attribution systems when analyzing marketing spend efficacy

Marketers using more specific targeting and optimization options on Facebook will face issues as well. Our marketers, using Facebook-provided guidance and drawing on their own expertise, have identified several use cases that may apply to your Facebook marketing program:

Optimizing to Web Conversion

Your pixel may only optimize for a maximum of 8 conversion events for each domain. Previously, there was no cap on the number of events that can be optimized to. Facebook will initially configure the conversion events they believe are the most relevant to your business based on your activity. In advance of this limitation, consider if changes will need to be made to your campaign or measurement strategy.

Optimizing to App Conversion

  • Contrary to Facebook’s prior announcement, advertisers can use their existing ad accounts to advertise to devices on iOS 14, but app advertisers will need to create separate iOS 14 app install campaigns due to reporting limitations from Apple’s SKAdNetwork API.
  • You can only associate your app with a single ad account. However, you can use the same ad account to advertise for multiple apps. Previously, apps could be associated with multiple ad accounts.
  • Each app is limited to 9 iOS 14 campaigns at once. Each campaign is limited to 5 ad sets of the same optimization type.

Impact to Custom Audiences

  • Custom Audience sizes will shrink as the majority of iOS mobile users reject the ATT prompt. Perfect exclusions between campaign types (prospecting vs retargeting vs remarketing) will not be achievable as a result.


  • Reporting for mobile users is delayed by up to 3 days. Web events will be attributed at time of conversion. App events will be attributed to the time the event is passed back to FB/IG.
  • Statistical modeling may be used to approximate app and web conversions on mobile devices.
  • For both app and web conversions, delivery and action breakdowns, such as age, gender, region, and placement will not be supported for iOS 14 users.
  • Attribution windows: Attribution will be assigned at the ad set level, rather than the account level. 28-day click-through, 28-day view-through, and 7-day view-through attribution windows will not be supported for active campaigns. However, inactive campaigns will still report using the legacy account level attribution window, and historical data for the attribution windows that are no longer supported will continue to remain accessible via our Ads Insights API.
    • We recommend exporting any historical 28-day view/click and any 7-day view attribution data you need.

Questions about how your Facebook marketing program will be impacted? We’re ready to take a look and help you understand how to be prepared as these changes take effect. Reach out to your New Engen account director today to learn more.