This is a significant shift for Facebook advertisers to note.

After its initial strong opposition to evolving approaches to user data tracking, which have imposed significant limitations on the information that it’s able to utilize within its ad targeting processes, Facebook has seemingly now accepted that this is the new norm, and that it will need to work with app hosts to update its systems in order to better align with the new limits on what information it’s able to access about audience response to ads.

As explained by Facebook:

With Apple and Google continuing to make changes via their browsers and operating systems, and with the changing privacy regulatory landscape, it’s important to acknowledge that digital advertising must evolve to become less reliant on individual third-party data. That’s why we’ve been investing in a multi-year effort to build a portfolio of privacy-enhancing technologies and collaborate with the industry on these and other standards that will support this next era.”

Indeed, Apple’s App Tracking Transparency (ATT) update, which it rolled out in April as part of 1OS 14.5, is already having a major impact on the digital ads sector, with Facebook advertisers, in particular, still adjusting their approaches and working out the best ways to mitigate the loss of audience insight. 

The true impacts of the ATT change are still evolving, with reports showing that over half of all iOS users are opting out of app tracking, when shown the new prompts.

Apple ATT prompt

That’s lead many to increase their reliance on a broader range of data tools to attribute ad response – but soon, Facebook says that it will have a range of new options to consider on this front. 

Helping to provide more insight within these data limitations, Facebook developing a set of privacy-enhancing technologies (PETs) for ads, which will minimize the amount of data gathered and processed, in order to help protect personal information, while still facilitating insight into campaign performance.

We believe that PETs will support the next generation of digital advertising, which is why we’re investing in a multi-year effort with academics, global organizations and developers to build solutions and best practices.” 

Facebook PETs

Facebook says that PETs will involve ‘advanced techniques drawn from the fields of cryptography and statistics’, which minimize the data that’s processed, while still preserving critical marketing functionality like ad measurement and personalization.

Facebook’s exploring several ways to apply these approaches to new measurement solutions.

“Last year we began testing our Private Lift Measurement solution with select partners, which uses a privacy-enhancing technology called secure multi-party computation. This helps advertisers understand how their campaigns are performing, while adding extra layers of privacy to limit the information that can be learned by the advertiser or Facebook.”

Facebook says that Private Lift Measurement will be available to advertisers next year, while it’s also working on additional tracking tools, like secure multi-party computation (MPC), which enables two or more organizations to work together on data sharing, while limiting the information that either party can learn.

“Data is encrypted end-to-end: while in transit, in storage and in use, ensuring neither party can see the other’s data. MPC is useful for enhancing privacy while calculating outcomes from more than one party, such as reporting the results of an ad campaign or training a machine-learning model where the data is held by two or more parties.” 

Facebook’s also researching on-device learning, which would facilitate ad performance insights without sharing individual data, among other approaches to the new privacy-enhanced landscape.

Similar to Google’s Privacy Sandbox project, which aims to limit data gathering, while still facilitating ad performance tracking, these new tools aim to find a middle ground of sorts to ensure that marketers can still maximize their ad spend, while also meeting increased demand for data control and restrictions from consumer groups.

But in order to action these new approaches, Facebook will need industry cooperation:

“These technologies will only be successful for people and businesses of all sizes if there is industry collaboration and a shared set of standards. That’s why we are calling on platforms, publishers, developers and other industry participants to work together – on these technologies and other privacy-focused standards and practices.”

Facebook’s hope is that, now that the initial impacts of Apple’s ATT update are clear, more industry groups will be compelled to worth together on solutions – though that will be relative to the impacts that each platform and organization is seeing, with some no doubt happy to see Facebook lose some ground as the clear leader in digital ad tracking. 

Some platforms, like Twitter, have claimed that they’re not seeing major impacts as a result of the ATT update, while reports have also suggested that Facebook will be the most heavily impacted by this shift. Given its dominance in the digital ad space, maybe some won’t be so keen to help it regain ground in this respect, while individual advertisers who are also switching for more first-party data tracking may also, eventually, see less reliance on Facebook insights for their ad performance, lessening the impacts over time.

Which is why Facebook needs to push now. And clearly, smaller advertisers are the ones most impacted by this change, which lessens their capacity to hone in their campaigns, and reduce ad spend by optimizing based on such insights. 

Maybe, by partnering with small business groups, Facebook can push for these changes to be adopted as industry-standard. But it’s an interesting shift, either way, which will have major impacts across the digital advertising sector.