iOS 14 introduced a number of privacy-related features like App Store nutrition labels, Privacy Report in Safari, Clipboard access notifications, and more. But, the feature that’s caught everybody’s eyeballs, and raised some eyebrows all in between, is App Tracking Transparency which Apple is due to roll out with the release of the iOS 14.5 update. Here’s why it’s important, how you can enable it, and why the feature has received a large amount of backlash from the advertisers.
Let’s try and understand App Tracking Transparency with an example. Say you open an e-commerce app on your iPhone and search for ‘headphones.’ Or, for that matter, browse through some headphones using the e-commerce app’s headphone category page.
After some time, you start seeing ads related to headphones on social media apps on your phone. Then you open a game, and even there is a little hoarding from Amazon saying ‘30% off on headphones.’ Here’s where app tracking is working behind the scenes. Advertisers know what you’re searching for, and in an effort to make a sale or create a lead, show some targeted ads to you.
How iOS 14’s App Tracking Actually Works
Right now, how app tracking on iPhone works is with the use of an identifier called IDFA or The Identity for Advertisers, is an individual and random identifier used by Apple to identify iOS devices. Using this identifier, ad networks can show personalized ads to users. Again, let’s see this with an example.
An app collects data about your usage (e.g., what kind of post you like, what kind of content you like to see). All of this data is stored within the device and linked with this identifier. Since every device has a unique identifier, advertisers can display ads related to the data collected. More personalized ads mean more chances of a user clicking on them. More clicks on an ad mean more chances of a user completing the conversion (e.g., installing an app, shopping), which would earn advertisers more money.
This identifier is no longer visible to advertisers in iOS 14.5. To get the IDFA, app developers would have to ask users to allow tracking permission to continue to use IDFA in iOS 14.
Starting with iOS 14.5, Apple has made it mandatory for app developers to comply with the app tracking transparency guidelines and ask the user if they want an app to track their usage or not.
Remember, disabling app tracking is not going to disable the ads that are being displayed. The feature doesn’t block ads. But the ads you’ll see after disabling app tracking would be the generic ones. It won’t be personalized based on your usage but arbitrary.
So, How Did Advertisers React to This?
Advertisers did not take well to this change. This was the reason why the feature was first delayed at launch. Apple wanted to give developers some time to integrate it into their apps. When iOS 14 released, Facebook claimed that app tracking transparency would lower its revenue by 50%.
Sometime later, the company ran a full-page ad criticizing iOS 14’s privacy feature and app tracking, in particular, saying the feature would absolutely destroy its ad revenue and result in lower income for independent businesses.
Facebook even threatened to take Apple to court over this change and said that the feature would change the internet for the worse. Recently, Snap Inc., the parent company of Snapchat, said that app tracking in iOS 14 would present uncertainties. Google, on the other hand, completely changed the way they track app usage in iOS 14.
Oh, So Does This Mean End of Conversion Tracking for Advertisers?
No, not really. Apple, back in 2018, rolled out an alternative SDK, called SKAdNetwork, which Apple says is a similar technique to track ad conversions while maintaining user privacy. Apple wholly manages the API, and advertisers (and developers too) will have to register with Apple before they configure it in their apps. But, there are some limitations with SKAdNetwork.
Currently, SKAdNetwork is only limited to track app conversions, which essentially means that it can only measure conversions for the ads shown to promote apps and not for shopping. The API isn’t real-time, too. Apple says developers can expect a delay of 24-48 before the conversion is shown in the dashboard. And lastly, SKAdNetwork hasn’t really been implemented anywhere yet.
There are very few apps on the App Store that have implemented this API in their apps, meaning there’s no concrete proof that advertisers will shift their tracking to SKAdNetwork.
How to Enable App Tracking Transparency on Your iPhone
Apple didn’t force developers to comply with App Tracking Transparency up until iOS 14.5. It doesn’t mean that the prompt won’t show up on iOS 14.4 or below. Apple already shipped iOS 14 with the App Tracking Transparency code inside it, but the company will make it mandatory for the app developers to comply with it only with the iOS 14.5 update.
“When you disable Allow Apps to Ask to Track, any app that attempts to ask for your permission will be blocked from asking and automatically informed that you have requested not to be tracked.”
So starting with iOS 14.5 update, you’ll get a pop-up regarding app tracking every time you open an app. But, instead of clicking don’t allow every single time, Apple has added an option to completely disable it. Here’s how you do it:
Step 1. Open Settings on your iPhone or iPad.
Step 2. Scroll and search for Privacy.
Step 3. Tap on the second option, Tracking.
Step 4. If you want to disable App Tracking for every app on your iPhone, disable ‘Allow Apps to Request to Track.’
Step 5. If you want to disable App Tracking for particular apps, keep ‘Allow Apps to Request to Track’ enabled and manually disable it for the apps you don’t want to track.
Once again, do remember that you would continue to see ads where you normally would see them. However, the ads you’ll see after disabling app tracking would be the generic ones.