“This Is Heavy!” The IOS14 update

If you don't work in digital marketing or in close proximity to it, you probably won't have noticed the wave of hysteria about the IOS14 updates that are currently being rolled out across iPhones and iPads. If you don't know what this is, it basically comes down to a particular modal window that will appear when you first open an app on the new operating system:

Apple, Facebook spar over privacy features in iOS 14, overall policies |  AppleInsider 

(This may not be the exact wording and you can substitute "Pal About" with whatever app is being opened)

“Why Don’t You Make Like A Tree And Get Outta Here?”

In it's simplest form, what this means for most of the apps on your phone, is that if a user selects the second option - "Ask app not to track", other web applications that said app is affiliated with, or rely upon for whatever reason, will no longer be able to track a users movements as they move from app to app or website to website, at least not as effectively as they used to.

Primarily this is used for advertising purposes, it allows ad networks such as Facebook and Google to create audiences and suggest products and services to their users as they go about browsing the internet. It also provides vital data and analytics to advertisers to gauge whether or not a marketing campaign is working. From a users perspective it's the reason why you start seeing ads absolutely everywhere for a face cream as soon as you've read an article about the how to combat dry skin.

TGF Apple! now we have control of our data

The consensus among advertisers is that most iPhone users will think exactly this, along with perhaps "now I won't get shown so many annoying ads". If that's you then let me be the first to tell you this won't be the case. You'll see just as many ads and they'll be even more annoying than before. Let me explain.

“It’s Your Kids, Marty! Something’s Gotta Be Done About Your Kids!”

This seems to be a similar state of hysteria people feel when it comes to their user data and the information that is being tracked, shared and crunched by algorithms on the web.

I personally feel the most common concern in this area relates to a users perception of 'user data' and what that is exactly. Unless you're a web professional you're probably not aware that different types of info about you exists in different places, but have no link to each other whatsoever. 

We see our credit card details are stored on various shopping websites and also in our browsers. Our DOB, address and even our Mother's maiden name exists in government and banking databases that are gathered and accessed through their websites. As users we mash all this data collection up into a singular term: 'User data'. Yes, all of it is out there somewhere, and yes, if particular details are accessed by the  wrong people it can result in cyber crime and fraud.

Conspiracy theories aside; I can say one thing, Apple isn't referring to this type of data in their update. we're not talking about data that contains details that actually distinguishes you as being you. In the realm of cookie and pixel tracking you're simply identified as a unique number (like #98765) which visited a particular website or app. When this is scaled to include all the web and app history at large, algorithms can calculate a pretty decent picture of #98765's interests and motivations. 

Even after we've distinguished these different these types of data and where it's stored, we still find friction. As humans we still manage to identify with that data as 'us', whether or it is just a unique identifier such as #98765 or not, we feel it relates back to our sense of self anyway, and at this point it makes us feel violated in some manner. Perhaps we're simply taking offence to being distilled down to what a computer algorithm has judged us to be, and as a result have been commodified by big tech and its commercial mechanisms. 

“Roads? Where We’re Going, We Don’t Need Roads.”

Well actually we do need roads, but what we don't need is to distinguish the difference between the roads, where they go or where they've come from. When users limit tracking across multiple websites it basically creates roads with only one way in and out. The data still exists, it just can't turn off the highway or change direction.

When you watch Netflix, Prime or YouTube you get offered other video content that might be of interest based on your history. Likewise on Amazon or Audible you are offered books based on your purchase history. This type of tracking and data will still exist, it's just that nobody else will know about it or be able to use it. But who cares? Everyone is accustomed to this type of tracking, and there's no concerns from most about this type of manipulation for commercial gains, after all it saves searching and digging around for more interesting content.

Yet when it's done by a different service provider outside fo this singular domain and used for advertising, all of a sudden we feel like we're being followed and our privacy violated. But really, what's the difference? Why is browsing one website so different from browsing the internet as a whole? All apps and websites rely on others to work or enhance themselves in some shape or form. Analytics tools, website tracking, payment gateways, email marketing and a plethora of other apps and plugins that make up a website will still be sharing information, and they'll all continue to track user #98765. But what is #98765 in one place is #12345 somewhere else. Does it really make a difference if we allow some algorithm to know these are actually one of the same? Why is it important we make a distinction between them as two separate entities when they're more useful to business and the user when grouped as one? 

From day one what's always made the internet distinct from other mediums is the ability to tailor itself to the user, to personalise itself to particular interests, motivations and tastes. Advertising is really no longer distinguishable to 'other' type of content so why limit its ability to be interesting to you?

“I Guess You Guys Aren’t Ready For That Yet. But Your Kids Are Gonna Love It.”

I think there is a generation gap on this topic. The younger guys who grew up with the internet from birth are certainly less concerned by the issue having evolved a point of view that all things digital must be good. Whereas the generation who witnessed the growth of the internet have instead ingrained a deep scepticism and cynicism towards digital, mainly because they feel the world was kinda better before and is perhaps the cause of eroding our kids social behaviour. 

However, it's the older generation which should in fact be easier to win around with logical argument. The argument is this - How much more annoying were the ads you saw on TV or (still) hear on the radio? Immensely more annoying? Least not because there's no skip button, but more for their utter irrelevance. Why does a 40 year old male with a balding head need to watch L'Oréal adverts about why he's worth it? There's a few wasted seconds he'll never get back. Why does a 16 year old student see ads telling them to open a Sportsbet account during their footy team's half time break? Shouldn't this type of content be reserved to a specific proportion of the population?

In a world without user tracking, analytics and sophisticated algorithms, where are we? We're back in familiar territory. TV and radio advertising. Do you really want to go back to that?

“Great Scott!”

... that's exactly what I needed!

How many products and services have you accidentally found, bought and loved from browsing your social channels, or simply came into being because you visited a competitor website?

Ten - fifteen years ago we all bought primarily products from huge, multi-national companies that everyone else bought from. From clothes, to cosmetics, from gardening products, to household cleaning products. We all bought from the same stores and from the same handful of brands that had been around for a generation. We still do, but now go looking through your cupboards, drawers and on table tops. What products do you have now that didn't exist a decade a go? How did you get by before them and come to think of it, how did they even come about?

What it all means to Comoditi and other small businesses

Prior to the big data and the sophisticated algorithms of Facebook and Google we were really back in the days of TV, Radio and print advertising as prime advertising space. It was bloody expensive as it relied upon slick photography and video production, and it wasn't enough to do only one area, they really needed to flood the market with one big unified campaign to get in front of as many eyes as possible, as many times as possible in order to succeed. Return on investment wouldn't be seen for months down the line, but they were safe in the knowledge they'd done this multiple times before, had a strong market share already and heck if it doesn't work, we'll try again next year. 

This kind of setup was impregnable to small start-ups with little to no funding. There was simply no room to compete. So nobody did.

Now add Google and Facebook advertising to the mix (I mention these the most as they have by far the most data and advanced algorithms making them the most popular for small business and start-ups). Instead of having to get your ad in front of as many eyes as possible you can show it to only the people who are actively looking for your product. Not only that, you can instantly see what is working and not working, test the copy, test the photos, no more second guessing, and more importantly no wasting money. It levels the ground between the multi-national behemoths and the stay-at-home mother who wants to keep busy with a side business. The latter can tailor their advertising to a niche and engaged group of people instead of the entire population. Put in $1 of advertising see $3 back (hopefully), these returns can be instantly tracked back to calculate the ROI. It's the only feasible way to do it for a company with tiny budgets they can't afford to throw away. They can only do that with data, and right now good data can only be achieved with tracking.

That's why we've seen such a rise in the number of new and innovative brands in the last decade or so, Comoditi being one of them. Because Facebook and Google give us the tools to compete with the big guys. In all honesty, nobody knows the full extent of what this will result in, but perhaps it will set a precedent for how things are done from now on. It is Apple after all. Perhaps we'll all be able to pivot and do things in a whole new way. Maybe. But one thing we fear is things going back to the world of non-targeted advertising methods, as I can promise you the only ones who'll be able to afford it will be the big brands with 6-figure advertising budgets.

“If My Calculations Are Correct, When This Baby Hits 88 Miles Per Hour, You're Gonna See Some Serious S***.”

Previously I said conspiracy theories aside, but here's one for you; big brands with huge market share won't be that affected by these changes. They'll go on happily like they always have. They may even be rubbing their hands together in the prospect there may be less disruptive and better products out there to compete with. We don't know where Tim Cook & Co really got the motivation to make this change, anything said here would be merely speculation. I just wish they could have framed that modal as

"Do you wish to continue seeing tailored ads you might be interested in or do you prefer irrelevant rubbish (either way you'll still see ads)?"