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SKAdNetwork: The Biggest Change Brand Advertisers are Ignoring

Posted Jan 19, 2021

It’s no secret that Apple will begin enforcing its AppTrackingTransparency framework soon, chipping away a decade of targeting practices and technologies. But there’s another side of Apple’s privacy coin that gets talked about less: SKAdNetwork, and it’s perhaps even more important that advertisers pay attention to the actions needed to stay current. 

What is SKAdNetwork?

SKAdNetwork (sometimes referred to as SKAN) was introduced to the public officially in 2018, though only available to limited partners as Apple tested the waters. At its World Wide Developer Conference last year, Apple announced SKAdNetwork to facilitate install transparency and measurement in IDFA-less inventory, and in other app-install campaigns, coming with iOS 14 (and future iOS versions).

Fundamentally, this framework is Apple’s way of providing ad attribution without compromising a user’s privacy. In the most basic terms: SKAdNetwork allows third-party ad networks (like AdColony) to attribute installs without exposing a user’s device id (IDFA). 

Apple also made it clear in their specifications and developer Terms of Service that any other methods (inferred, aggregated, fingerprinted, etc.) that attempt to track users who don’t opt in (tracking as defined by Apple!) run the risk of being shut off at any moment, without warning, by Apple.  

That’s a lot of technical jargon there, but if you’re running UA for your brand’s food delivery, their loyalty program app, or any other kind of app under the sun, you need to be ready to shift at least some of your campaign spend to SKAN campaigns. 

SKAdNetwork works by marking the ad tap (click) with a unique signature so that when the user installs the app, Apple verifies the ad network signature is legitimate and registered with Apple, and alerts the ad network that an install occurred without the ad network ever needing to look at the IDFA.

Do I need to change my app?

Yes. Once an app is installed and opened via SKAdNetwork, it communicates with Apple to confirm the install, then sends the postback (the “receipt”) to the ad network that delivered the install. The Apple-signed notification includes the campaign ID but doesn’t include user- or device-specific data. 

If the version of the app a user installs can’t do that, imagine the receipt printer at checkout is out of tape! 

Specifically, advertiser apps (that is to say, the one you’re running a campaign to get users to install!) must confirm the new install or download took place by using a class function in the code of the app itself called registerAppForAdNetworkAttribution(). If the app doesn’t do this, you won’t be able to attribute, or even measure, installs! 

But I can’t code!

If you’re at a major burger chain or Italian restaurant with an app (that did gangbusters in 2020), or an agency running their user acquisition, there’s a high chance the app itself is made by a contracted app developer like BottleRocket, RightPoint, or another trusted app development house and not the brand itself or the UA agency. This is all information those developers should be aware of, but they may also be waiting to hear from you on direction. Schedule that meeting! 

This is somewhat different from the arrangement at most mobile game developers, where the engineer changing the code (or at least their direct supervisor) is known to the person running UA. Before COVID-19, they maybe had drinks on Fridays! This is significantly less common in the non-gaming and brand app world, so don’t wait! 

Fortunately, the changes needed to be made app-side are fairly easy. Apple’s documentation for using SKAdNetwork, including what your app development team needs to do in order for it to work can be found on Apple’s developer website. We’ll also be publishing four action items to get your campaigns ready early next week. 

Don’t forget you have to be able to receive the postbacks too! If you have any questions about building postback endpoints for SKAdNetwork, adding your integration, ad network IDs, or anything at all, please don’t hesitate to reach out to your AdColony account manager, or email [email protected]

What about Android devices?

Consumers with Android devices remain addressable directly via their AAID (Android Advertising Identifier) and make up a little less than half of the mobile phone market share in the United States, and almost 75% worldwide.

For more information on how you can prepare your brand’s app growth team for Apple’s changes, we recommend checking out our post on Getting Your Campaign Ready for iOS 14

Join the Conversation
Do you have more questions about SKAdNetwork? Tweet us at @AdColony. For the latest AdColony mobile news and updates, follow @AdColony on Twitter, like us on Facebook, or connect on Linkedin.


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