Apple’s iOS 16 spares ad tech further anguish (for now) but more privacy clampdowns expected

The kick-off date for Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference has been one the digital advertising industry has circled on its collective calendar with a sense of trepidation.

For good reason: in recent years, features such as Intelligent Tracking Prevention, App Tracking Transparency, Hide My Email, and Private Relay have systematically torn apart the sinews of online advertising in every tier of the Apple ecosystem.

Although, upon first viewing the keynotes at this year’s WWDC — Apple’s annual flagship conference where it unfurls upcoming releases of new software products — those in adland can breathe a collective sigh of relief.

WWDC 2022 kicked off Monday — giving a stage to Apple execs such as CEO Tim Cook and svp of software engineering Craig Federighi who previewed pending updates to its iOS 16 and Ventura Mac OS, including new email, text messaging, and photo-sharing features.

A timeline of Apple’s privacy crusade

Apple has made “privacy” one of the cornerstones of its brand promise to consumers in recent years. Execs mentioned the term during this year’s WWDC keynotes in monologues about the protection of iPhone Wallet users’ IDs, and concerning a new feature called Safety Check.

THE TIMELINE

2017: erosion of third-party cookie begins in Safari with ITP –> Google Chrome and others follow suit –> Apple targets privacy in iOS –> 2020: Apple obscures “IDFA” with App Tracking Transparency for iPhone –> 2022: new Safety Check feature?

Although the conference is set to run until June 10, the lack of diatribes from the WWDC stage chastizing those in the nearly-$700 billion online advertising business will come as a welcome reprieve.

Over the course of the last five years, Apple has been slowly imposing its will on the digital advertising ecosystem both on the web as well as its iOS ecosystem.

It began with the erosion of third-party cookies in Safari with the debut of ITP, a development that sources claim caused publishers’ CPMs to drop by as much as 60% in the Apple web browser.

First unveiled in 2017, the feature blocks cross-site tracking on the web’s second-most commonly used browser, and one that is considered a milestone that prompted others to follow suit — most notably Google Chrome.

In subsequent years the iPhone maker’s attention turned to its mobile operating system, a move many deemed likely to have more wide-reaching implications for ad-supported media given iOS’ share of the smartphone market (28%) exceeds Apple’s share of browser usage.

Apple announced its intention to obscure its mobile identifier, known as “ID for advertisers” or “IDFA,” in 2020 with its App Tracking Transparency feature asking iPhone users if they consent to app publishers (and their monetization partners) measuring their activity after exposure to an ad as part of iOS 14.

A stay of execution

Despite Apple offering the industry several stays of execution, the prospect of such a clampdown was enough to spook many in the business with the stock price of several publicly listed firms that rely on measuring iPhone users’ behavior adversely impacted, most notably Facebook.

We are deeply concerned about regulations that will undermine privacy and security in service of some other aim
Tim Cook, CEO Apple

Further still with its subsequent iOS update and Hide My Email feature, Apple proposed obscuring yet another crucial data point that marketers have grown reliant upon when it comes to measuring the performance of their campaigns with sources describing it as a “proverbial nail in the coffin” to Digiday.

In the run-up to this year’s WWDC, separate sources shared their belief that Apple would make Private Relay — a feature that let’s premium iCloud subscribers obscure their IP addresses — available to all iPhone users by default.

Such a move would have further hamstrung the digital marketing sector but executives in the sector will do well not to be complacent, even if some think Apple’s privacy crackdown has been tempered by the oversight of government competition authorities.

Speaking earlier this year at the International Association of Privacy Professionals’ annual flagship conference, Apple CEO Tim Cook told attendees of his company’s concern that such measures could adversely impact consumers.

“We are deeply concerned about regulations that will undermine privacy and security in service of some other aim,” he told IAPP delegates at the time. “Policymakers are taking steps in the name of competition that would force Apple to let apps on the iPhone that circumvent the App Store through a process called sideloading.”

Sign up to get the day’s top stories at 6am eastern.