Apple is delaying a controversial new privacy feature it’s implementing with iOS 14 that will require developers ask users for permission to gather data and track them across mobile apps and websites on the iPhone and iPad, the company announced in a developer update posted Thursday.
Apple originally intended to put the feature live and start enforcing its requirements with iOS 14, slated for released sometime this fall, but the company is now giving developers more time to comply with the changes. Among the companies most concerned about the feature is Facebook, which said it would stop using the unique identifiers Apple intends to warn users about but expressed concern for third-party advertisers on its network that cannot afford to do the same.
“We are committed to ensuring users can choose whether or not they allow an app to track them. To give developers time to make necessary changes, apps will be required to obtain permission to track users starting early next year,” reads the developer note. Apple says developers can begin complying with the rule when iOS 14 launches if they choose, but it won’t require them do so until early 2021.
“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,” Apple said in a statement given to The Verge. “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 isn’t necessarily going to war with the digital and mobile ad industries, but the privacy feature is among the iPhone maker’s most aggressive developer policy changes it has introduced in recent memory. First revealed at this year’s WWDC in June, the new feature will show users a prompt when an app has requested their so-called Identification for Advertisers, or IDFA, code. Many users are expected to decline, and Facebook has said the feature may “severely impact” its ad network, according to a report from Bloomberg last week on the social network’s decision to stop collecting IDFA codes altogether.
The code is a unique identifier that helps advertisers track the effectiveness of ads across mobile apps, websites, email clients, and more. This is traditionally how advertisers know when you’ve, say, downloaded an iOS game from an app install ad within Facebook or when you’ve clicked on a product within Instagram that redirects you to an online web store. There are other complex methods and tools advertisers use to track you on the internet, but the IDFA is a generally industry-standard approach that’s useful across various ad types, devices, and platforms. Apple’s decision to place it behind an opt-in message may have substantial consequences for the advertising industry and how it makes use of mobile tracking.
“On each app’s product page, users can learn about some of the data types the app may collect, and whether that data is linked to them or used to track them. You’ll need to provide information about your app’s privacy practices, including the practices of third-party partners whose code you integrate into your app, in App Store Connect starting this fall,” reads a new page Apple published on its developer portal on Thursday.
The page details the types of data that a developer will have to disclose its collection methods for, as well as guidelines over how a developer communicates the way it uses that data. Developers will also be asked to identify whether “each data type is linked to a user’s account, device, or identity by you and/or your third-party partners.” There are also instructions around disclosures for tracking and privacy policies.