Apple to start enforcing tracking changes next week, priming mobile space for disruption

Dive Brief:

  • Apple will publicly release its iOS 14.5 software update next week, and with it enforce a hotly anticipated App Tracking Transparency (ATT) framework intended to safeguard user privacy, the company announced Tuesday.
  • As part of the initiative, Apple is making its mobile Identifier for Advertisers (IDFA) an opt-in feature, meaning apps must request user’s permission to track them or to access their device’s advertising identifier. Developers must also include a “purpose string” in the system prompt stating why they want to track the user. The policy applies to all apps starting April 26.
  • A more formal rollout date for ATT and IDFA heralds significant disruptions for the mobile advertising ecosystem, with major platforms like Facebook expected to take a revenue hit. The announcement was one of several Apple made earlier this week around its Spring Loaded company event.

Dive Insight:

Apple previously stated the IDFA changes would go into effect in early spring, but this week’s announcement sets a firmer deadline for developers to ensure their apps are privacy-compliant. The implementation of IDFA was initially supposed to take place last year but was delayed due to pushback from advertising platforms.

IDFA is significant because it makes a widely used mobile ad-tracking tool an opt-in feature rather than being opt-out. The IDFA is a unique code preinstalled on each Apple device, including iPhones and iPads, that apps can use to glean more information on users. Making it opt-in sounds like a small adjustment, but many consumers are expected to choose not to be tracked, even if they know that allowing a measure of surveillance will provide more personalized user experiences and advertising.

Some analysts predict the policy tweak will cost platforms like Facebook up to billions of dollars in revenue. The social networking giant has criticized Apple’s plans — resulting in increasingly public spats between the two companies’ chief executives — and earlier this year launched a consumer-facing ad campaign championing the benefits of personalized advertising.

While digital heavyweights like Facebook have received the most attention ahead of Apple’s identifier changes, many players in the mobile advertising ecosystem will be affected. An October survey by the mobile attribution and analytics firm AppsFlyer found 56% of marketers expect to see a negative impact. One-third forecast they would cut their mobile ad spending due to the changes, while 19% said they would shift that spending. Some blue-chip marketers are reportedly trying to develop workarounds to the IDFA in China.

A level of anxiety from marketers is understandable, as consumer concerns around privacy continue to climb. Almost half (47%) of consumers report they’re unlikely to consent to sharing an Apple device identifier with apps that request it, AppsFlyer found in a separate survey conducted with the trade group MMA Global.

Some marketers and platforms have taken it upon themselves to explain the benefits of enabling trackers and identifiers, but it could be too little, too late. Apple says it will be stringent in excising apps that do not comply with its policies. The iPhone maker hasn’t been free of scrutiny, with its control over the App Store a focus of recent Senate antitrust hearings around Big Tech.

Apple’s ATT implementation plans came amid a slew of product announcements. The company revealed a new marketplace for users to discover and manage premium podcast subscriptions, along with a redesigned Apple Podcasts app. It also introduced AirTags, small, button-like accessories that can be placed on important items, such as keys or a handbag, and tracked through Apple’s Find My app.

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