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A Real-Time Look at Apple’s Private Relay

A Real-Time Look at Apple’s Private Relay

Written By

Bryan Barletta

Know the Author

September 28, 2021

Our last SP Highlights is with Tom Webster of Edison Research, where we dig into the value of listener surveys for publishers and advertisers.

A few weeks back, I wrote a navel-gazing article covering Apple’s iCloud Private Relay. Every now and then it’s important to look at these major changes and envision the potential impact that could happen because of them several months to years from now. Our industry absolutely needs to make more time for this level of deep consideration and planning, which is something I think we fall short on pretty often.

But Sounds Profitable stemmed from my desire to be a Sales Engineer for the entire industry, helping answer tough questions and provide supporting knowledge for buyers, sellers, and everyone in between who are responsible for the growth our industry has seen.

Now that Apple iCloud Private Relay is live, I want to revisit the topic from that lens and help all of you answer “how does this impact us today?”.

Spoiler Alert: In its current form, Apple’s iCloud Private Relay should have no discernible impact on any aspect of podcast analytics or advertising.

Now, let’s dig into the specifics.

Turn What On?

Last week, with the launch of iOS 15, Apple sent out an email to all paying iCloud users letting them know they were automatically upgraded for free to iCloud+. One of the features mentioned in that email was iCloud Private Relay, Apple’s take on a Virtual Private Network (VPN). The topic of consumer privacy continues to be in the spotlight, so a service that enables iPhone users to effectively obfuscate their IP address sounds like something that would appeal to a lot of users.

So how does an iPhone user turn it on?

First off, this only works with iOS 15, which went public on 20 Sep 2021. Apple has one of the highest adoption rates out there for users switching to the latest operating system, but this year, sources are estimating a 50% drop compared to the previous version.

The reason? Oddly enough, Apple isn’t pushing the upgrade heavily. Thus far Apple has yet to push a pop-up notification or even put a badge on the Settings app to lets users know about the upgrade. Also, they’ve decided to continue providing security updates to the previous operating system. But what I find most surprising is that when a user does manually go to the Software Update section of the Settings app, upgrading to iOS 15 is at the bottom of the page, below the most recent iOS 14 updates.

So unless you’re buying a new phone, upgrading to iOS 15 takes way more steps than normal.

Only after a user has upgraded to iOS 15 can then turn on the new iCloud+ features, manually. They’re not on by default. Users interested in trying out iCloud+ have to open the Settings app and tap through five more actions to turn it on. And that’s after already being a paying iCloud user.

What does this do, again?

Once turned on, iCloud Private Relay acts as an intermediary between your device and the websites you’re looking to visit while using the Safari app. So the website sees the request from Apple, instead of your device directly, allowing you another layer of privacy which includes (mostly) not sharing your IP address.

This doesn’t impact any other app on the device in any way. And, just like a VPN, this does have the potential to slow down connection speeds. My test showed a nearly 80% reduction in speeds over my AT&T Wifi connection, but Twitter user Tim Baker saw less than a 30% drop. It also may impact what information a website shows you, due to the region your routed IP address is in, and some services you use may require you to log back in on every visit (here’s Apple’s advice).

This isn’t unique to Apple’s iCloud Private Relay, it’s simply part of using a VPN. And fair to say it’s a big reason that a VPN, which iPhone users have been able to apply to all connections from their device, is not used by the majority of iPhone users.

What’s the Impact So Far?

Unsurprisingly, not much. I worked with James Cridland of Podnews and publicly available data from Buzzsprout to answer some questions.

Podcast Downloads – No Impact

According to Buzzsprout, only 2.1% of podcast listening is on any form of web browser. With mobile Safari coming in at around 23% market share, that’s 0.5% of downloads that have a chance of being impacted by iCloud Private Relay. This lack of impact also applies to third-party analytics partners like Podsights and Chartable, including Chartable’s podcast-to-podcast attribution solution, SmartPromos.

IP Based Targeting – No Impact

Ad servers like AdsWizz, ART19 and Megaphone all utilize data management platforms to target demographic and behavioral characteristics from download requests to populate the right ad. Nearly every ad server with DAI also offers geographic-based targeting. For both, the impact here is the same as download counting, which is to say non-existent: since less than 1% of podcast plays happen on a Safari browser where iCloud Private Relay could be active.

Pixel-Based Attribution – No Impact

Podcast adtech correctly identified years ago that IP address is not a one-to-one match to an individual nor can we match every single podcast download to a conversion. Instead, our focus has been on Lift Reports, a modeled solution that takes what we can confidently measure and compares it to a well-crafted control group to determine success. We’ve covered the lack of impact on downloads, but Safari does have a 23% market share for mobile browser usage. Even in the unrealistic scenario where every Safari user pays for iCloud, turned on this feature, and only made purchases on their mobile phone, a drop of 23% in measurable conversions would not invalidate this solution.

Survey + Promo Code Based Attribution – No Impact

While these two definitely don’t deserve to be lumped together, neither operates in a way that requires the IP address of the download or on the conversion, so neither of them will experience any impact whatsoever.

Why All the Drama

Outside of the fact that I don’t believe for a second that this feature, currently in beta, will stay as obscure and isolated just to Safari as it is today, the drama about this change is mostly coming from Facebook.

Last year, Apple killed the third-party cookie, which previously allowed partners like Facebook to track users on other sites. Facebook responded by ending their ad marketplace extension on the web. This year, Apple required all apps that want a users Mobile App ID to request permission for it, resulting in less than 4% opt-in rate for Facebook: effectively as much of a blow in mobile apps for them as the change in websites above. For Facebook, who relies on a one-to-one match for their attribution offerings, this knocked them back to, well, the podcast age.

Almost every adtech industry besides podcasting (hello there, out-of-home!) has been so laser-focused on getting granular data from every single ad exposure and matching it to granular data of every single conversion. This reliance on a one-to-one match guarantees that any disruption in that data flow or impact to its accuracy can result in undercounting attribution as high as 15%.

The end result of all these changes absolutely will be that the methodologies that we use in podcast advertising will become more common-place in the greater advertising ecosystem simply because they can’t transact on that data any more granularly. The future of adtech looks closer to what we’re transacting in with podcasting, pushing further into contextual advertising, prioritizing modeling over impossible granularity, and ultimately exploring a better connection between creator and consumer.

So while there are clouds on the horizon, it’s sunny skies for our industry, and it’s our job to educate all buyers out there on why podcasting should be part of their testing too.

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Rel’s Recs

Arielle’s pick for this week is: False Idol, from Religion of Sports and PRX.

Podcast advertising works. I heard one ad for this podcast a while back and didn’t think much of it. But then I heard another. And another. And finally I decided to give it a try. And WOW. False Idol is a riveting story that centers upon a number of sensitive topics: toxic masculinity, gender-based violence, ethical reporting, and more. In 2013, Oscar Pistorius, the double-amputee Paralympian sprinter from South Africa was charged with murdering his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp. I expected this show to be about Oscar. And it definitely is. But reporter Tim Rohan makes a point of highlighting the stories of the women who were impacted by Pistorius’ rage-filled tendencies.

Market Insights – with ThoughtLeaders

Noam Yadin, Content and Social Media Manager at ThoughtLeaders joins me this week to share insight into current trends:

Super interesting to see that although iOS 15 was released on 20 Sep, there was much more hype (in the podcast realm) around the new update in June – when Apple first introduced the latest version. It’ll be interesting to see if this trend changes as more people download the latest iOS operating system.

About the author

Bryan Barletta (He/Him) is the founder of Sounds Profitable, and a widely-cited expert in adtech, sales, and monetization of podcasting. He founded Sounds Profitable in 2020 after a successful career working with some of the leading companies in advertising technology, including AdTheorent, Claritas, and Megaphone. Barletta helped to design some of the tools in use by podcast platforms today for attribution, measurement, and serving audio ads, and uses that expertise to help clients and sponsors get the most from their sales and advertising efforts. He founded Sounds Profitable initially as a platform to help educate persons working in the podcast industry about advertising and sales technology, but has since expanded the brand to become the industry’s premiere source for education, advocacy, and insights designed to grow the entire space. He is an avid gamer and father of two boys, neither of whom have their own podcast, yet.