‘They’re slowly starting to kill it’: Ad tech execs brace for Apple to scrap in-app ad tracking

Ad tech execs have a new concern that’s moving to the front burners: the specter of Apple extending Safari’s mobile and desktop anti-tracking blocks to Apple’s in-app environment.

There is good reason for the jitters. Apple has taken a no-nonsense approach to third-party ad tracking, blocking all third-party cookies on Safari, putting the kibosh on all programmatic monetization on the Safari browser. Many ad tech vendors see a clear path to this jumping to ads in-app on iOS devices.

Apple has typically been tight-lipped on plans for IDFA, its identifier for advertisers and the only means of targeting an ad, and tracking its attribution, within apps on iOS devices. Earlier this month Apple posted an update for App Store Connect that described how app developers should use IDFA — the only way to offer targeted ads on iOS devices. In the update, Apple stated that app developers must disclose how they’re using IDFA, and ensure it is only for the specific purposes of ad targeting and attribution and nothing else. They must also ensure all third-party partners are doing the same.

Meanwhile, this month Apple also revealed an API for the iOS app ecosystem, SKAdNetork, positioning it as a useful tool to track post-campaign attribution. Some ad tech vendors believe that Apple’s intention is to replace IDFA with SKAdNetork and in doing so appease advertisers that their mobile app attribution won’t tank as a result of pulling IDFA.

“They’re [Apple] slowly starting to kill it,” said Dan Wilson, CEO of London Media Exchange. “This [API update] is a brilliant move from Apple because it’s a way for them to police and control attribution. It will keep it [in-app attribution] within their own proprietary environment.”

For others, if Apple’s plan is to get rid of IDFA and replace it with its own mechanism, there will be repercussions for anyone using yield optimization tools within the iOS ecosystem.

“It makes the Apple ecosystem less attractive to those that monetize it, like publishers and app developers,” said an ad tech executive who spoke on condition of anonymity. “If developers [that rely on in-app ad monetization] start pulling away, what then? Do consumers move to Android where there’s a more vibrant developer ecosystem of apps?”

IDFA has been the only way to target ads within iOS apps to date, and users can control their settings for it. But over the years, it has been abused, according to ad tech executives. IDFA is a way to track iOS users (on an aggregated, not individual, basis) and used by a lot of location and device-graph vendors to assess how a user has interacted with an ad. But typically over the years, shady vendors have been able to access that same data to track, for instance, a user’s location in order to create profiles to monetize the data, according to ad tech sources.

“Many in the industry have concerns around Apple restricting use on IDFA,” said Ari Lewine, co-founder and chief strategy officer of ad exchange Triplelift. “The strange thing is they still support IDFA for in-app targeting which is arguably less private than web cookies.”

The reason for that is that cookies aren’t persistent and can be easily lost or cleared, but the same can’t be said of user data within IDFA. “So in short, Apple’s stance is confusing. Why restrict something on mobile web you allow for in-app?” he added.

Digiday contacted Apple but received no response by the time of this article’s publication.


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