- Apple said a planned change to the iPhone operating system that could impact how mobile advertisers track users would be delayed until early 2021.
- The change to the tracker was previously planned as a feature in iOS 14, the upcoming version of the iPhone operating system.
- Facebook and digital ad companies have warned that the proposed change could roil the mobile app industry.
In June, Apple said that iPhone users, when opening an app for the first time, would be given an option to allow the app access to an identifier associated with a physical device. Advertisers use the so-called IDFA identifier to better target ads to individual users and estimate how well they work. They expect most users to opt out of sharing it.
Apple said it now plans to update its App Store rules with more information about the policies later this year and will give developers additional time to adjust.
"We are committed to ensuring users can choose whether or not they allow an app to track them," Apple said on its developer blog on Thursday. "To give developers time to make necessary changes, apps will be required to obtain permission to track users starting early next year."
The change to the tracker was previously planned as a feature in iOS 14, the version of the iPhone operating system that will be released to the public this fall.
Less access to the device identifier is likely to have major implications for mobile advertising. Facebook recently said it's "seen more than a 50% drop in Audience Network publisher revenue" after individual targeting was removed.
"It's going to look a lot like the consent forms you see on websites now that say, 'Do you agree to be tracked?'" said Justin Scarborough, programmatic media director at PMG, in an interview last month before the announcement of the delay. "And so we know that those adoption rates are pretty low, and we expect that it's going to be pretty low with mobile as well."
Apple frames the change as a core part of providing privacy protections to users, rather than as an attack on the advertising industry. It's also promoting its privacy features as a core reason to get an iPhone, including in a new ad released on Thursday.
The Information first reported on the delay.
By pushing out the change, developers of ad-supported apps can look for other ways to monetize their products. Apple has its own ad measurement service called "SKAdNetwork," but it doesn't provide the amount of data and level of detail that advertisers want.
Companies like LiveRamp are building alternative ways for marketers to do targeted advertising for consumers who log into an app with personal information. Travis Clinger, the company's senior vice president of addressability and ecosystem, said last month that this method is governed under separate privacy terms.
Based on the guidance Apple has provided thus far, many developers and publishers have been left trying to figure out how they'll continue ad-supported efforts without interruption and with less data, said Matt Barash, who runs strategy and business development at mobile marketing company AdColony.
"The way that the ecosystem has run relatively untouched for the past five or six years was going to have to be reinvented in 90 days," he said. "Mobile is more important today than it's ever been as a marketer, and this is going to allow for business continuity for agencies and holding companies at a time when they need it most."