Apple

Apple’s Step Back (For Now) In The User-Tracking Debate

Apple

Score one for Facebook and other digital ad-reliant firms — at least temporarily — as Apple has decided to take a step back on requiring tracking permission from consumers. However, the battle over data privacy will continue.

Apple disclosed this week in a developers’ blog that it will delay a new privacy rule that would, according to opponents, hurt Facebook and other firms that rely on ad revenues. The rule would have required developers to ask consumers permission before using data to track users movements across apps and sites accessed through devices such as the iPhone and the iPad.

We note that Apple’s move is a delay and not a cancellation, as the new rule would have gone live with the debut of iOS14, which in turn is to be launched this fall. That means this controversy will likely surface again.

In the meantime, Apple will now give developers until 2021 to comply with the rule. “We are committed to ensuring users can choose whether or not they allow an app to track them,” Apple wrote in its blog. “To give developers time to make necessary changes, apps will be required to obtain permission to track users starting early next year.”

Apple sent a separate statement to The Verge, which explained that “when enabled, a system prompt will give users the ability to allow or reject that tracking on an app-by-app basis. We want to give developers the time they need to make the necessary changes, and as a result, the requirement to use this tracking permission will go into effect early next year.”

The move will give companies like Facebook and other firms that rely significantly on content publishing and advertising more time to prepare for the change. In the meantime, Apple’s delay shines a spotlight on the debate over how and when app tracking should be allowed — and whether users should give explicit permission before apps can track them in order to sling ads their way.

As reported this week by PYMNTS, companies like Facebook have said that the change could hurt ad business. At issue is the Identification for Advertisers, or IDFA for short. That’s a random-device identifier that resides in Apple devices.

Advertisers can use IDFA use to track data, target their ads and fine-tune their advertising efforts. But as it had been structured before the delay, iOS 14 featured an opt-in and opt-out option for users that would let them grant or deny permission to track them.

That could stymie efforts by Facebook and others to serve up relevant ads. When Apple announced the proposed change in June, that was enough to spur Facebook late last month to state that the move could adversely impact the ability of publishers to monetize their ad effort across Facebook’s Audience Network. In fact, Facebook said the impact could be so severe that “it may not make sense” to offer the Facebook Audience Network on iOS 14.

Although the delay gives publishers a breather, one wonders what the resulting fallout could be for a host of stakeholders in the digital ecosystem that rely on targeted advertising, content and outreach efforts. (A la Google, Facebook and any number of firms seeking to bring new apps to users.)

There might also be a ripple effect across eCommerce efforts that use social networks to place and promote new products and services. That’s a movement that we’ve noted might be underpinning Walmart/Microsoft’s interest in TikTok. 

All in all, this is just another line of controversy for Apple, which has seen its share of criticisms — and official legal challenges — over how it conducts business. The well-reported legal battle with Fortnite developer Epic Games has brought the workings of the Apple App store front and center, drawing attention to the 30 percent fee that Apple charges developers who bring apps to that store.

As reported by PYMNTS, German antitrust regulators are watching that case closely, and perhaps an additional probe might soon open on the Continent, too. (The European Union is already investigating Apple’s subscription fees.)

And late last month, Apple apparently backed off of a bid to force WordPress, a free app, to add in-app purchases. Despite such backtracking, 2021 looms for now as a new chapter in Big Tech’s user/permission/data debate.

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