Apple delays iOS 14 ad tracking policy that left Facebook furious

Apple is delaying its new rules around in-app tracking in iOS 14, postponing the controversial disclosure requirement that set it at odds with Facebook. Announced at WWDC 2020, the new feature was intended to make explicit that software could use data to deliver personalized adverts, and indeed track users across multiple apps and websites.

Users would be presented with the option to allow such tracking, or ask the app not to track them. At the time, Apple was praised by privacy advocates for taking the step, which could prevent iPhone and iPad users from unwittingly having their digital lives tracked and comprehensive profiles built on them for more specific advertising purposes.

However it was less popular with ad providers and networks. In August, Facebook called out the iOS 14 feature as having the potential to undermine its partner ad business. The change could leave its so-called Audience Network system "so ineffective on iOS 14 that it may not make sense to offer it on iOS 14," Facebook said at the time.

Clearly someone at Apple has been listening to the feedback. Now, while iOS 14 will still support the new notification and the prompt to permit in-app tracking, developers won't be penalized if their apps don't show it. Instead it won't be until sometime early in 2021 before Apple makes supporting the notification a requirement.

"We believe technology should protect users' fundamental right to privacy, and that means giving users tools to understand which apps and websites may be sharing their data with other companies for advertising or advertising measurement purposes, as well as the tools to revoke permission for this tracking. 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" Apple

The technology relies on IDFA, or Identification for Advertisers, which sees each iOS device being given a unique code. That can be shared with advertisers, and used to personalize campaigns shown to a user across different software and websites. Audience Network, for example, is used in numerous apps and sites, and many people may not realize that they're all keeping track of visits and sharing that data in aggregate in the background.

Making it more visible, Facebook and others have warned, could pull the rug out from under effective campaigns. Without a comprehensive user profile, targeted promotions will be trickier to finesse. "Like all ad networks on iOS 14, advertiser ability to accurately target and measure their campaigns on Audience Network will be impacted," Facebook explained last week, "and as a result publishers should expect their ability to effectively monetize on Audience Network to decrease."

Apple's decision comes as it faces criticism from multiple quarters about its policies. In August, Epic Games led a revolt around in-app purchases and the so-called "Apple tax" applied to developer revenues made through the App Store. Apple responded by pulling Fortnite from its store, with Epic going on to sue the Cupertino firm – and Google – over the situation.

Apple says it will have more information on when, exactly, app publishers will need to start asking permission around tracking, later this year. "More information, including an update to the App Store Review Guidelines, will follow this fall," the company told developers.