Apple said today that the privacy changes to its Identifier for Advertisers (IDFA) in iOS 14 are coming shortly with its next beta software release.

Apple had previously said the changes — which could make it a lot harder for game and app companies to target specific users with advertising — would come in “early 2021.” Now that day of reckoning for the ad industry is nearly here, with some saying ad-based businesses like Facebook could lose 7% of their revenues, or billions of dollars. Google also predicted some harm for small companies but said it would comply with Apple’s policies.

The iPhone maker describes its IDFA changes as App Tracking Transparency and gives users the option of not sharing their IDFA data. Every app has to ask you upfront whether it’s OK to share your data with third parties. Apple made the announcement on Data Privacy Day, and Apple CEO Tim Cook is speaking about it at the Computers, Privacy, and Data Protection conference in Brussels.  Apple noted that eight major privacy advocacy organizations urged it to enforce its upcoming privacy rules.

In a report dubbed “A Day in the Life of Your Data,” Apple said each app has six third-party trackers, on average. Data collected by these trackers is pieced together, shared, aggregated, and monetized, fueling an industry valued at $227 billion per year. Apple seems to be referencing Facebook, Google, game and app developers, and the overall adtech industry.


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Above: Apple will require you to opt-in if you want your data shared.

Image Credit: Apple

“Privacy means peace of mind, it means security, and it means you are in the driver’s seat when it comes to your own data,” Apple senior VP Craig Federighi said in a statement. “Our goal is to create technology that keeps people’s information safe and protected. We believe privacy is a fundamental human right, and our teams work every day to embed it in everything we make.”

Apple said that under settings dubbed the “privacy nutrition label,” users will be able to see which apps have requested permission to track their data and can either grant permission or deny it. And app makers will have to honestly explain how they plan to use the data. Privacy advocates have urged Apple to follow through with the changes, while the adtech companies are scrambling for other ways to make advertising more effective.

When you use a new app, a notification will explain what the tracking will be used for, and then it will ask if you want to opt into tracking. You can also toggle IDFA data sharing on an app-by-app basis. And you can still turn off app tracking altogether if you wish. If you do that, no apps can ask you to be tracked.

Apple said it will enforce this change for all third-party data sources and data-sharing agreements. But first-party platform owners such as Apple — or the game companies that have data for their own games — can still use data per their terms of service. Apple is putting the onus on developers to know if application programming interfaces (APIs) or software development kits (SDKs) they use in their apps are sharing user data.

Apple said it will abide by its rules for its own apps and will present the same opt-in requests to users as needed. However, if you toggle the “personalized ads” button, you can allow or disallow Apple from using its own first-party data to show you ads.

Meanwhile, Apple is making its ad attribution API better when it comes to click measurement, measurement of video conversions, and app-to-web conversions.

Apple will require opt-in from the user for data tracking.

Above: Apple will require opt-in from the user for data tracking.

Image Credit: Apple

The changes will roll out in “early spring” in upcoming releases of iOS 14, iPadOS 14, and tvOS 14.

“Apple’s new data privacy tools ensure that people have greater control over their personal information. Data brokers and online advertisers will now have to act more responsibly when dealing with consumers who use third-party applications on Apple devices,” Jeff Chester of the Center for Digital Democracy said in a statement.

Federighi criticized the adtech industry for its self-serving stance in a speech to European lawmakers and privacy regulators in December. He said opponents to the changes have made outlandish claims and that their real interest is in eroding the right to privacy.

“They gather, sell, and hoard as much of your personal information as they can,” he said. “The result is a data-industrial complex, where shadowy actors work to infiltrate the most intimate parts of your life and exploit whatever they can find — whether to sell you something, to radicalize your views, or worse.”

However, the game industry has also been worried about the changes, and the lack of information and advance preparation for their impact led Apple to delay enforcement from September until early spring. Some observers see the move as an attempt to grab back revenues Apple has lost to companies such as Facebook and Google. As such, IDFA has triggered a battle between the tech giants.

Facebook in particular said some apps could see a 50% drop in revenue as a result of the changes, and it also launched a campaign to explain how the IDFA changes would hurt small businesses. This week, at our Driving Game Growth event, Facebook executives also said IDFA changes posed uncertainty for the world’s mobile game market in 2021.

Google, meanwhile, said it respects the right to user privacy, but it has not yet said when it will impose similar restrictions on Android. User acquisition expert Eric Seufert believes Google will eventually have to make a similar move, as regulators will pressure it to follow Apple’s lead.

I’ve talked to many adtech and game executives about this shift. Some believe it won’t impact them as much as feared and could even enable better games to naturally rise to the top of the charts. But Seufert thinks the impact on such companies will be pretty severe. Consumers could also feel some negative impacts, from getting spammed with irrelevant ads to having to pay for previously free services.

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