The Sabio Perspective:
App Developers, Privacy and the Apple IDFA

June 29, 2020 | Sabio

Another WWDC from Apple has come and gone, and with-it countless updates to its software. Naturally the most popular smartphone has to have its share of updates designed to make everything running the device just as appealing as the iPhone itself.

With the introduction of iOS 14, Apple has notified the advertising industry of changes to the IDFA. The buy and sell side of the business will see changes to how IDFA is distributed and how app install attribution is accessed.

Looking back to previous iOS updates would suggest that Apple will roll out the latest version to the market in mid-September.


For some time now Apple has insisted that they are not interested in making gains off of user data. Their revenue is focused almost entirely from sales of hardware and services. Yet they can’t say they are out of the ad game completely. More on that later. However, they have continued to take a principled position around privacy lately and these updates to iOS 14 reflect those ideas.

The changes generally relate to who can access and share your data, when and why. Essentially Apple will require app developers to ask before accessing your data. As a user, you will have the option to "Allow Tracking" or "Ask App Not to Track." According to Apple, if a user doesn't consent to tracking, the app will be limited to the type of data it has access to. More on this below.

Related to this is another update around user privacy in the way developers detail their app listing. Apple will now require developers to make it clear what data their app will be collecting. They will need to detail the types of data [location for instance] the app collects and whether it is connected to the user’s ID for tracking. You can think of this sort of breakdown like reading the nutrition label on a box of cereal. Users will have more visibility to what they are sharing with developers and their 3rd party partners.


Apple's SKAdNetwork [validates app install campaigns] is now the framework where app advertisers, ad networks and source apps have to be compliant with to manage how app install metrics can be reported on and shared. Apple will now route the postbacks [tracking conversions], validate ID keys, and be the single source of truth when it comes to identifying who has installed your apps in an iOS environment.

In terms of the steps that a company needs to take in order to work within the SKAdnetwork, an ad network that works between advertisers and publishers will need to register as an Apple developer and get an ad network id. The source app, aka publisher app, needs to add the ad network id to their app code. This is similar to the app-ads.txt initiative, but at the code level. The advertiser’s app has to add some non-ad network specific code to their app if they plan to provide any attribution.

Another benefit mobile measurement platforms [MMPs] provided was a way to universally report on metrics across environments that were fragmented. With a major player in Apple walling themselves off now, the fragmentation has been re-introduced. With this change, MMPs may have no choice but to establish new partnerships with publishers, or deeper partnerships with ad networks and Apple.

This has a huge impact on mobile attribution companies who base their business model on helping advertisers understand who installs their app, which partners are the best at it, and any post-install information that the advertiser might be interested in.

The more widespread impact across the ad industry is the fact that all apps will require an opt-in to receive the Identifier For Advertisers or IDFA. The app asking for permission can customize their message to a degree, but if a user doesn't want to opt-in, then the IDFA will be zero-ed out similar to how Limit Ad Tracking (LAT) works.

Since IDFA actually becomes more valuable now, apps might incentivize users to opt-in for unlocked content, extra lives, or additional features. The value exchange between a user's privacy and free content becomes obviously more intertwined.

For categories of apps, like gaming or utilities, efficient advertising is a critical revenue driver, if not the only one. You can expect to see a lot of these pop up once IOS 14 launches.

Interestingly, the company that may benefit the most on knowing what type of users download what app is Apple themselves. They have a booming app store ad search business and have jumped into the content side with Apple News and Apple TV+ as of late. They may have made these moves in the interest of privacy, but at the same time, it is a lot of power in the palm of their hands. Maybe bring back the now defunct iAds?

For ad platforms like Sabio - partnerships, publishers and privacy become even more important than ever before. With foresight, we anticipated the changes in the cookie and believed the IDFA changes were only a matter of time. Our cross screen graph, which we have continued to develop, reduces our dependency on the Cookie or IDFA from Apple or Google resulting in continued improvements for our clients.

It will require a lot of technical expertise to navigate these waters and we are here to help. Please reach out to your Sabio account executive to discuss further or email us at .