Apple’s Chief Privacy Officer: ‘Regrets’ Creation of IDFA, Didn’t Intend to Implement Certain Uses of Ad Tracking
An Apple software manager who heads the user privacy division has expressed regret over the creation of the Identifier for Advertisers (IDFA) since 2016, saying developers continue to find ad tracking flaws that the team had not anticipated.
The IDFA was created as a sort of compromise to make ad tracking possible while protecting user privacy, but a report of Information cites insiders who claim that a series of loopholes and workarounds discovered by app developers allowed them to retrieve personal information anyway, and that designer Erik Neuenschwander (now head of privacy in company) eventually came to openly regret ever having created the system.
Apple internal sources: the IDFA has failed in its mission
A team at Apple led by Neuenschwander developed the IDFA in 2011 and eventually rolled it out in 2012. The idea was for it to be a more private replacement for cookies and the Unique Device Identifier ( UDID) based on Apple’s hardware, which were able to connect to a disturbing amount of users’ personal information which was in turn transmitted to ad tracking systems.
Apple seemed sincere in its intentions for the IDFA, hoping it would make it easier to track ads that could track the interests of individual users without mining any of their personal information. Each Apple device would be assigned a unique IDFA, which users could change at any time if they wanted to reset their activity history. The IDFA could also track them across multiple devices through their online accounts such as iCloud, a strong selling point for the ad tracking industry.
It was a reasonable idea on paper, but Neuenschwander and his team soon found themselves chasing after app developers who were able to find various loopholes and tricks to allow them to link the personal information of device users to the IDFA. The unintended consequences in this area were so beneficial for ad tracking that it eventually became the industry standard, with Google adopting its own clone (the Google Advertising ID) for Android devices.
An example of abuse of the system was advertisers finding ways to continue to access the IDFA even when the end user had disabled it. The Neuenschwander team made substantial updates to the system in 2014 and 2016 to combat this illicit access, but determined developers eventually found ways to defeat these new measures as well.
Anonymous insiders told The Information that after the ad-tracking industry defeated the 2016 updates, apparently in the same year, Neuenschwander began expressing to his Apple colleagues within of the company that he regretted ever having developed the IDFA. He was apparently also concerned that the model had become an industry standard used by Google and others, where safeguards against abuse were not necessarily as strong as they were at Apple.
Apple’s ongoing battle with the ad tracking industry
Internal concerns about the IDFA came to a head in 2019, when chief software officer Craig Federighi ordered the privacy team to “do something about it”. This ultimately resulted in the App Tracking Transparency Framework, which prohibits apps from accessing the IDFA for ad tracking until the user provides express consent. As soon as mandatory permission requests were added to iOS 14.5, the advertising industry is estimated to have lost around 70-80% of Apple users. The impact is so strong that Meta predicts a loss of $10 billion in 2022 due to this factor alone.
However, application tracking transparency is not necessarily an established solution for Apple. The company is facing a variety of antitrust lawsuits and investigations over it, with the ad-tracking industry arguing that Apple controls about half of the entire mobile phone market and is therefore well positioned to impose unfair terms on those who publish apps and advertise with them. . Probes and disputes have been opened in France, Germany, Poland and the United States, and this is not the only problem with the privacy system.
App tracking transparency continues to face the same challenges that the IDFA has encountered throughout its history, as the app appears to be lax at first and app developers have at least some degree of leeway to use other advertising tracking alternatives (such as device fingerprinting) which are believed to be prohibited. A study conducted by former Apple engineers in late 2021 determined that App Tracking Transparency was “functionally ineffective” in stopping ad tracking even when users opt out, with 10 popular apps either simply by failing to ask for permission, or including other types of trackers not under the IDFA.
Apple’s ad tracking approach also continues to come under attack from the organizations that bear the brunt of it, like Meta, as they wage a PR war and advocate for even more antitrust actions around the world. whole.