Apple Is Putting IDFA Use Under The Microscope

Apple seems poised to clamp down on the rampant, unauthorized use of its mobile ad ID, the IDFA.

Earlier this week, Apple added a new screen to the user interface within App Store Connect, the portal that developers use to upload and manage the distribution of their apps.

The screen, discovered in the wild and shared with AdExchanger (see below), asks developers to confirm whether and for what purposes their app uses the IDFA.

Developers are warned that if their app – or any third-party code within, aka, SDKs – uses the IDFA, they can only do so for three purposes: to serve ads in the app, for install attribution and/or to tie an action taken within the app to a previously served ad.

While the anvil might not be dropping just yet, Apple is indicating that the clock is ticking on its mobile ad ID.

But it’s unlikely that Apple will drop that anvil in the very near term.

Getting serious

While these three things were true before, Apple is reinforcing that developers are not allowed to use the IDFA as an analytics identifier.

Back in 2014, the App Store started rejecting apps that used the IDFA without actually serving any ads. Non-advertising-related uses of the IDFA include data enrichment, user identity, customer analytics and CRM.

There followed a period of consternation on the part of analytics companies and ad networks. But the policy was sporadically enforced and, over time, Apple seemed to place the issue on the back burner.

Now, Apple is being explicit, “which means they’ll also probably start enforcing much more deliberately,” said Eric Seufert, a media strategist, former Rovio executive and editor of Mobile Dev Memo.

More scrutiny “sucks for any third party that needs data to do targeting,” he said, and “all SDKs that depend on the IDFA for non-advertising purposes are in trouble, including Facebook.”

Most SDKs include code to access the IDFA and, for that matter, the Android Advertising ID.

Implications

For now, this warning is just telling developers to be more cautious, and it’s unlikely that Apple will grenade the IDFA at its WWDC developer conference next Monday.

“I suspect that this is Apple’s first step toward policing how device IDs are used, which is very encouraging, as it’s not the aggressive approach of depreciation,” said David Philippson, CEO and co-founder of Dataseat, a startup that helps app developers in house their programmatic media buying operations. “There are good use cases for IDFA that maintain consumer privacy [while] allowing ad tech vendors to generate value for advertisers and publishers.”

But Apple’s subtle move doesn’t bode well for the IDFA’s fate over the longer term, said Maor Sadra, former CEO of Applift and CEO and co-founder of incrementality startup INCRMNTAL, which is still in stealth mode.

Apple is differentiating the apps that use the IDFA from the apps that don’t, which sets the stage for an eventual farewell.

“I don’t see an escape from a future where Apple deprecates the IDFA – it is too exposed, non-private and very easy to leak between third-party platforms,” Sadra said. “The solution is with the OS – and the OS will remove it.”

And when that happens, attribution vendors, which rely heavily on the IDFA are … well, they’re screwed, Seufert said.

“Eventually, when there is no IDFA at all, the MMPs [mobile measurement partners] are most affected,” he said. “The IDFA is their primary mechanism for doing attribution.”

See you LAT(er)

In the new screen, Apple also calls out Limit Ad Tracking, requiring that developers tick a box to confirm that they, and any third party they work with to serve ads, abide by the user’s stated preferences before serving any ads using the IDFA.

The disclaimer is a little confusing, considering that when users have the LAT setting enabled, their information becomes untrackable.

But the callout indicates that Apple is about to start pushing users more aggressively into LAT, Seufert said, either by making it easier for them to find the setting and turn it on or, perhaps, enabling it by default.

 

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