Apple’s IDFA tracking changes force application developers to look for workarounds; Device fingerprinting is popular despite violating App Store rules

Apple’s IDFA terms of use will soon require app developers to obtain affirmative consent before tracking devices. The vast majority of users are supposed to opt out, which will create serious problems for the personalized advertising industry. This has developers desperate for alternatives slipping under Apple’s radar, and fingerprinting the device appears to be the direction many will go despite the risk of being banned from the app store for it.

Apple’s IDFA changes take advertisers to the brink

iOS 14 brought with it a number of major privacy changes. One that was supposed to roll out in early 2020, but was delayed sometime in early 2021 due to complaints from advertisers, is a mandatory subscribe button that accompanies the installation of new apps. App users need to be aware of how developers plan to use the device’s unique IDFA for tracking in other apps and websites. They are allowed to opt out of tracking, and app developers cannot deny service or restrict features if they do. This feature is already available in the setup menu, but is not enabled by default; Surveys indicate that only about half of all Apple device users currently do so. App developers expect that number to skyrocket once users are proactively given the option.

App developers are scrambling to find alternatives to track Apple IDFA numbers to deliver targeted ads, and the solution some seem to be establishing with is device fingerprinting. The problem with that approach is that Apple has also banned the use of device fingerprints as a way to circumvent the new tracking rules. Some app developers seem so desperate they are willing to take a chance rather than give up their revenue model, even going as far as using hidden email addresses and phone numbers as a follow-up measure.

Risking the device being fingerprinted

In the broadest sense, the device fingerprint attempts to profile each device based on unique combinations of attributes that can be viewed. There are several ways to do this. A very popular one is using the web browser, which often has revealing combinations that can identify a user: browser type and version number, possibly with the extensions the user has installed. App developers pursuing a device fingerprint strategy also often add any information about the user’s device that can be viewed: phone or tablet model, operating system number, list of installed apps, screen size, and screen ratio. visualization, for just a few examples. Hardware benchmarks can even be used silently in the background to obtain CPU and battery information. With enough of these data points, a single user can be identified with high confidence in multiple browsing sessions. Marketers use this as an alternative to Apple IDFA to track user interests and deliver personalized ads based on these demographic observations.

Apple views device fingerprinting as an invasion of privacy and has banned it from apps for several years. Some app developers seem willing to risk a ban instead of risking with user consent. Apple’s App Store grossed approximately $ 50 billion in sales worldwide last year. Apple has only a 13.5% share of the global mobile phone market, but it has a disproportionate share (40% to 50%) in certain lucrative countries and its users are estimated to be worth up to twice the average user. Android in terms of expected revenue.

App developers feel the heat

Apple has yet to set a firm date for the release of the new mandatory privacy notices, but has said it will happen in “early 2021.” Meanwhile, ad tech companies can still use Apple IDFA numbers without notification to the user.

App developers feel cornered by Apple’s harsh proposed wording of IDFA’s subscription window, which they believe will almost certainly cause users to opt out, and incentivizing users with bonus offers or limiting functionality pending subscription. for ad tracking is not allowed.

Apple has banned companies and engaged in high-profile battles over device fingerprinting before. Perhaps the most infamous incident was its bow to Uber in 2017, in which Uber went the length of geofencing off Apple’s Cupertino campus to hide the fact that they were dealing with fingerprint devices. This led to an in-person meeting in which Tim Cook told Travis Kalanick that Uber would be banned from the App Store if it continued.

In addition to Apple’s IDFA changes, there is another important component to the new iOS 14 data rules, the privacy “nutrition labels” that all apps must display, which have already been activated and are also upsetting some in the industry. of mobile advertising. Facebook took the unusual step of taking out full-page newspaper ads to complain about them.

Some #mobileapp developers are so desperate that they are willing to take a chance on fingerprinting banned devices instead of giving up their revenue model. #privacy #respectdata

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Given Apple’s IDFA restrictions, the reality many ad-supported apps now face is to risk some kind of device fingerprint scheme or just absorb the loss and switch to a less granular (and therefore both probably less lucrative) ad network, and a fully contextual approach (which selects ads based on page or app content rather than information collected about the end user).


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