Research Impact Of The iOS 11 Updates

August 28, 2020

Have you heard? Apple is going to release a major new update this week, iOS 11. This will impact most of iPhone users in varying degrees, but we thought a couple of particular changes impact marketers and researchers in direct ways. These new features are apparent responses from Apple to privacy concerns stemming App based location service and a lack of consumer clarity around the risk or value of allowing that kind of tracking. These new features are apparent responses from Apple to privacy concerns around App-based location services and a lack of consumer clarity around its risk or inherent value. Until iOS 11, this wasn't easy to manage. Along with an array of UI improvements, there will be two critical changes implemented that will hit mobile survey apps hard.  

#1: Fine tuning location sharing options on each individual app
While some consumers historically will opt out completely for any location sharing, most users allow location sharing for specific apps. Currently, app developers must give at least two options: "always share location" or "never share location". This decisive line allows developers to always share their location within the app even if they'd rather permit that selectively. For example, there are times when I want Cartwheel (Target's coupon app) to know where I am so I can get the latest deals. But that doesn't mean I want the app to constantly track me. Under the current setup I am forced to change the setting every time I'm in a store looking for a deal if I wish to set my default to "never share location".

The new update will make mandatory in all apps a third location setting which is only offered previously at the discretion of the app publisher - "only while using app". Apple will also be cracking down on "bad actors" that, unbeknownst to the user, continuously collect and then sell their location meta data. The popular weather app AccuWeather was recently caught sending geolocation data to a third-party data monetization firm, even when the user had switched off location sharing.

What impact will this have?
As this feature was introduced most developers (79%) opted to give users the 3rd "While in Use" option. As seen in a slide from WWDC this year.  It stands to reason that given the choice, many consumers will opt to be selective on when they share location services.  If that's true, recent research innovations in the area of passive metering and GPS based survey apps will have to figure out a workaround as fewer users are able to be tracked in the same way.
#2 The blue bar of shame.  More obvious presentation of tracking
In addition to greater control of location services usage, real-time awareness of how apps use your location will increase significantly. Users will now be notified by a glaring blue bar that states "XYZ App is "Currently Accessing Your Location". This will be a noticeable visibility increase versus the more subtle small arrow that would intermittently pop up in the top menu bar next to the battery in past versions. This feature won't just affect your home page; the lock screen will also alert you when an application is using your location.

In that [iOS 11] release, an app that's actively receiving continuous background updates will show a double-height blue bar, whether authorization is set to While Using or Always. That's presented as a feature to developers and users, but it's also a signal that something's happening "if you weren't aware that app was continuously tracking you, now you will be" MacWorld

#3 Automatic "Offloading" of Unused Apps
Apple is now giving users the ability to "offload" apps they don't frequently use. Offloading an app means apple will delete the app but leave the icon on your homepage. When you try to open the app it will let you know it has been deleted and will give you the option to re-download. This is free up storage space for those users that wish to do so. The largest impact of this is when an app is offloaded the app is prevented from sending notifications.
It's not yet clear how long an app has to go unopened before iOS 11 decides it's time to remove it, but this feature is ideal for those who install a bunch of apps, try them out a couple of times, and then forget all about them. "“ Cult of Mac
What does this mean for app based surveys?
The promise of app-based surveys connects in no small part to the ability to connect with individuals at any time in certain locations. This new update will not prevent that. What will change is the ability to use geo-fencing and location information to trigger a survey or confirm a user is where they claim to be without overt buy-in from the consumer.  Getting users to allow an app to use their location 24/7 will be harder with the forced 3rd option "while using" and now a prominent blue bar.  It'll be more critical to sell this in to users now more than ever.  In the consumer mindset, there would need to be a real value associated with that permission.  What will that look like?  More surveys? Bigger incentives? Either has a real impact to a research method and associated companies that have been trying to gain steam in recent years. For the researchers wondering more about this, here are some examples of programs that mobile research apps currently offer.

Post-Shopping Satisfaction
Often a geofence will setup around a list of stores relevant to the target study. When a respondent, whose app is monitoring their location, leaves that geofenced area, they will be alerted via the app on their phone to come take a survey about that store. This approach brings natural shopping experience just before the survey is administered in a way that couldn't be guaranteed with a pre-recruit. It also isn't viable anymore if consumer use "only when using the app" on the location preferences for this survey app.

In-store product placement
The reverse can also be a great use case for mobile apps with location services forced on. The geofence can still be used around a list of stores, but now the survey alert is triggered as the consumer is entering that zone. This allows a respondent to decide naturally to visit this location, but then the researcher can ask relevant study questions in the moment. This can also not happen any longer without a pre-recruit if the consumer changes their location settings to "only when using the app." This little set of features in a new iOS update is simply one example of where "big data", research and consumer privacy concerns converge.  In this evolving landscape, the innovation challenge grows a bit each update. But it's also a win for consumer empowerment that hopefully brings more trust along the way.

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