Explainer: What is Apple’s ATT?

A new privacy protection is coming, so just what does it mean for marketers?

The Apple AppTrackingTransparency (ATT) framework is a new privacy protection designed to make it easier and more intuitive for consumers to safeguard their personal information on phones, iPads and the Apple TV.

For marketers, it’s another privacy hurdle but some new research suggests emphasising trust rather than the technical is the answer to encouraging user opt-ins.

Understanding Apple’s ATT

Earlier this year, the computing giant announced ATT would be required when requesting permission to track users and access device advertising identifiers. It had been temporarily deferred in late 2020 to allow developers time to prepare.

Under the ATT framework, a notification appears when someone opens or downloads an app which requests the user’s authorisation for access to app-related data for tracking the user or the device.

It is now active with the beta update and with the upcoming release of iOS 14, iPadOS 14, and tvOS 14, it will be applicable to all users in the second-half of this year.

“Without the user’s permission, you will not be allowed to track them and the device’s advertising identifier value will be all zeros,” Apple said in a statement on its developer site.

In an upcoming release of iOS and iPadOS, Apple is also preparing to enhance SKAdNetwork and add Private Click Measurement support for apps, allowing advertising networks to better attribute advertisements that display within apps on these platforms. “Private Click Measurement enables the measurement of ad campaigns that direct users to websites while preserving user privacy,” the company said.

Privacy commitment

Apple has increasingly looked to protect the privacy of the people who use its devices, bringing in simpler, privacy labels and being more transparent about how and what user data is collected through its devices and services. For instance, the ATT also reworks the attribution process for users and also adds app privacy labels in the App Store about what and how user data is used.

These changes are in addition to its Apple ID For Advertisers (IDFA) that already allowed users to control app advertising tracking. An Apple spokesperson has reportedly said that when a user opts out of tracking, developers are expected to stop using other identifiers like hashed email addresses for ad targeting and tracking, and to not to share user information with third-party data brokers.

In another move to bolster its privacy credentials and help its device users understand the daily reality of tracking, Apple recently published A Day In The Life Of Your Data, a consumer guide which outlines a fictional day of a parent and child and the way their digital movements are captured and commodified for tracking and advertising.

The company maintains the ethos of Steve Jobs and his belief to privacy, summed up in this quote from the All Things Digital Conference in 2010: “I believe people are smart and some people want to share more data than other people do. Ask them. Ask them every time. Make them tell you to stop asking them if they get tired of your asking them. Let them know precisely what you’re going to do with their data.”

Yet it must be noted Apple is not against digital advertising, according to its CEO, Tim Cook. In a recent interview with the Toronto Star, Cook said digital advertising is going to thrive in any situation, because more and more time is spent online, less and less is spent on linear TV.

“And digital advertising will do well in any situation. The question is, do we allow the building of this detailed profile to exist without your consent?” Cook asked.

The company believes users must have transparency and control, and that privacy is a fundamental human right. In the interview Cook said that any companies trying to circumvent ATT are still trying to track users without them knowing.

“The only reason why you would push back is if you believe you'll get less data. The only reason you would get less data is because people are consciously deciding not to do it and were not being asked before,” he said in the Toronto Star interview.

There have been some criticisms of Apple’s move in that there is no allowance for users to opt in to tracking for any benefit. Apple has said all apps must function in exactly the same way, regardless of whether someone has given permission or not for tracking.

Timehop COO and The Barbarian co-founder, Rick Webb, has written Apple has unilaterally mandated “I can’t get something in return for letting an app use my data”. “Some people find exactly this mechanism of exchange to be a worthwhile vision for the future of data privacy. Yet Apple has decided to forbid this,” he wrote on the Substack newsletter, Why Is This Interesting?.

Marketing for brand affinity to encourage opt-in

Time will tell how this change affects user opt-ins, although there may be some important insight for marketers in new research. Recent data from Appsflyer on ATT opt-in rates found the per-app average opt-in rate was 28 per cent, based on 300 apps on at least 2000 devices.

However, looking more closely at how different categories of apps performed, it shows an interesting story, with relevant to brands and marketers. Utilities, non-gaming, shopping and apps all had the highest percentages of opt-ins, while gaming all at the lower end.

“It appears that lower brand affinity in gaming leads to much lower opt-in rates. Although brand equity is on the rise in gaming, it is mostly relevant only for the largest studios,” Shani Rosenfelder said on the Appsflyer blog.

Brand loyalty and app usage intent play a significant role in encouraging user opt-in to app tracking it appears from this research. “Many non-gaming apps, have a stronger brand affinity and are known to end users. With higher levels of trust, opt-in rates rise,” said Rosenfelder.

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