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Apple delays iOS 14 feature which prevents advertisers from tracking users

Apple is delaying the rollout of an iOS 14 feature that required developers to take explicit consent from users before that app could track their activity across other services and websites on the iPhone and iPad, the company announced on Thursday. Apple will now introduce the feature “early next year” instead of in September when the iOS 14 update is expected to roll out. This feature had left digital advertisers, especially Facebook, worried (more on that below).

What exactly is the change? Every Apple device comes with a unique identification code, which can be used to track what users do on their phone. Unsurprisingly, the code, called identifier for advertisers (IDFA) is extensively used by adtech companies, including Facebook to track user behaviour across various services so that they can run targeted ads at them. However, when Apple announced iOS 14, its operating system for iPhones and iPads for 2020, it said that any developer who wants to use the unique code will also have have to take explicit consent from users. This means, iPhone users can expect to see lots of pop-ups like this when they open an app:

Source: Apple

This basically means that apps that engage in the following will have to take users’ consent:

  • Displaying targeted advertisements in the app based on user data collected from apps and websites owned by other companies.
  • Sharing device location data or email lists with a “data broker”.
  • Sharing a list of emails, advertising IDs, or other IDs with a third-party advertising network that uses that information to retarget those users in other developers’ apps or to find similar users.
  • Placing a third-party software development kit (SDK) in the app that combines user data from the app with user data from other developers’ apps to target advertising or measure advertising efficiency, even if developers don’t use the SDK for these purposes.

Why advertisers are worried about this update

This particular feature has become a cause of concern for digital advertising companies, particularly Facebook. For Facebook’s Audience Network, which is its ad network for developers, it is expecting a drop of over 50% in revenue. Other developers like the UK-based DMG Media, which owns outlets such as Daily Mail, are reportedly considering nuking their iOS app altogether. The new update will “disproportionately” affect the Audience Network given its heavy dependence on app advertising, Facebook had earlier said. Apple’s updates may render Audience Network so ineffective on iOS 14 that Facebook may not even offer it on iOS 14.

“I’m not at all surprised Apple delayed the user certification process for IDFA.  This change will do a lot of harm to the app developer space and to independent publishers. Because Facebook was able to frame the issue in terms of the harm to its media network partners, and not itself, that put a lot of pressure on Apple,” Mike Woosley, COO of US-based data solutions company Lotame, told MediaNama in an emailed statement.

Woosley also said that the IDFA is already a great tool for privacy. “The holder of the phone can either universally block the ID,  or reset it: the consumer has all the power. The only thing Apple has not done is enable the user to block IDFA per app (something you can already do with alerts and other communications related to apps). It’s a very easy fix. If Apple would make that small change, consumers would achieve comprehensive control, and nobody anywhere would even be talking about it,” he told us.

Navin Madhavan, VP and general manager of adtech company InMobi, welcomed the move, saying that with the delay, Apple is possibly keeping in mind the interests of developers who would have been affected by the change. “We welcome this move from Apple to delay the IDFA opt-in to early next year. While we are definitely keen to see the steps Apple is taking to address privacy concerns among users, it is great to see that they are possibly keeping in mind the interests of developers on the App Store whose advertising revenue would have taken a hit and advertisers whose marketing stacks would have had to evolve in a very short duration. This extended timeline gives the ecosystem across developers, advertisers and ad tech platforms more time to think through solutions that will help partners on the iOS ecosystem adapt to this change better,” Madhavan told MediaNama.

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Developers will also have to show privacy practices on App Store

Aside from this new consent mechanism, Apple will also require app developers to add a new privacy information section in their app listing on the App Store. On each app’s product page, users will be able to know about some of the data types the app may collect, and whether that data is linked to them or used to track them. Developers will also need to provide information about their app’s privacy practices, including the practices of third-party partners whose code they integrate into the app.

*Update on September 5, 8.22 am IST: Article was updated with comment from Navin Madhavan. Originally published on September 4, 5:36 pm IST. 

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MediaNama’s mission is to help build a digital ecosystem which is open, fair, global and competitive.



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