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Putting Data Privacy on the Agenda
19 Aug 2021
Since the launch of the 14.5 iOS update in April 2021, the topic of privacy has been top of mind worldwide, giving it its revival since GDPR made its entrance in 2018. On average only 15 % of the world population accept tracking across apps after Apple implemented the App Tracking Transparency prompt that we experience when downloading a new app using the Identifier for Advertisers. While it has made life harder for advertisers and platforms that live off advertising, it does not necessarily affect the product tracking that we perform to ensure better user experiences.
You’re sitting with your iPhone, and you decide
to download a new app. When you open it, a pop-up jumps out at you, asking if
you want to let Apple track your behaviour across different apps. What do you
Like the majority, you will most likely opt out and not let them track your behaviour, and what consequences does that have for app owners?
Apple became a first mover
On 26 April 2021 Apple released the 14.5 iOS update, which implemented the App Tracking Transparency (ATT) feature creating challenges for the personalised ads market and especially smaller business that live off the knowledge they gather through this way of tracking behaviour.
The Identifier for Advertisers (IDFA) is a random device identifier assigned by Apple to a user’s device used to track data without revealing personal information so advertisers can customise advertising across platforms. With the new iOS update, this feature is now disabled by default and must actively be enabled by the user either when first downloading the app or through the settings on your phone.
The new feature, however, does allow tracking across platforms for businesses with multiple apps e.g., like Facebook and Instagram.
While this update only affects Apple users, Google has stated that they will be implementing a corresponding feature in late 2021, however not the same model as Apple.
Asking the important questions
Since the implementation of the new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in the EU, the topic of data privacy has been hot. The App Tracking Transparency feature has further fuelled the fire. Apple has literally put the topic front and centre and right back on the agenda, again forcing us to consider the topic when creating an app.
What sort of tracking is necessary? That is the most important question. If possible, most companies would prefer to avoid the ATT prompt, because it’s annoying for the customer and it sends a bad signal. And the only way to avoid this prompt, is to refrain from using the IDFA, hereby not tracking behaviour across apps.
But not using the IDFA does not mean that tracking behaviour is off limits. When we create an app, one of the most important aspects is product analytics, which helps us determine the success of our products. Usually, we track behaviour such as clicks or interactions with certain features to see if they are being used as intended or even used at all, to make sure that our product are relevant for our users.
While it has forced companies to re-evaluate their tactics, we have been forced to revisit some of our products to make sure that we comply with this new feature while still being able to track behaviour that help us improve. E.g., when we use Firebase or the like that track attributes like gender as a result of behaviour across difference applications.
If attributes like gender, age, etc. is important for you to know as a company, it may be beneficial to encourage users to assign these identifiers upon login and therefore not colliding with these privacy rules.
But even then, it can be difficult to convince Apple that it does not collide with their new, enforced rules. While the majority of the apps that we develop at Shape do not use the IDFA, it’s not always straight forward explaining that to Apple, especially when our products tend to be in Danish. So, while the ATT in itself isn’t a problem in our product tracking, it does present some challenges because of the immense focus it put on tracking in general.
While the iOS 14.5 update is a challenge for advertisers and vendors that live off selling this information about consumer behaviour to advertisers, it has put the topic of data protection on the agenda and forced companies to actively consider their role and go through existing product, to make sure they are compliant.
Is it necessary, is now the big all-knowing question that everyone needs to consider, as we have seen that the majority of users decline the right to track their behaviour across applications.
The update doesn’t mean that tracking has become impossible. It just limits tracking to individual apps unless tracking using the IDFA has been accepted by the user, which puts the power back in the hands of the user instead of to advertisers, who undoubtedly are struggling with this new reality.