This article was first published in Which-50.
A coalition of leading French advertising organisations have filed a complaint with France’s competition regulator over Apple’s planned privacy update, which will stop apps and websites from tracking users without explicit consent.
Apple announced the feature in June, revealing users would soon be able to prevent apps from accessing their ad-tracking ID on iPhone and iPad to the dismay of online advertising companies that rely on the IDs to track users’ activity online and “personalise” ads.
Facebook warned the feature would make one of its advertising tools so ineffective there would be no point offering it on the latest Apple operating system and it could cost the social media and publishers significant revenue.
The privacy measure was slated to be included in the recent iOS 14 update but Apple delayed it until the start of 2021 to give the developers and the online advertising industry more time to prepare. Starting next year access to advertising IDs – known as identifier for advertisers (IDAF) – will be switched off by default on Apple devices and apps will need explicit user permission to turn tracking on.
Given consumers’ attitudes to tracking – most say they are uncomfortable with targeted advertising and businesses keeping databases on their activity – it’s safe to assume many won’t be granting apps that permission back.
On October 22 the Interactive Advertising Bureau France, Mobile Marketing Association France, Syndicat des Régies Internet and Union Des Entreprises de Conseil et Achat Média filed a complaint with the French Autorité de la Concurrence (ADLC), alleging it is abusing its dominant market position to distort competition, according to reports by Digiday.
Interestingly, among the coalition’s complaints is the allegation that Apple’s pop up opt-in/out box apps must now display does not comply with the EU’s GDPR laws, which require informed and specific consent.
We have nothing against privacy: It’s a matter of [Apple] using privacy as an excuse to do other things,” said the legal counsel for the coalition of advertising groups. “We really think that [Apple] will claim, ‘it’s privacy — privacy is a human right’ … but strategy enough they are profiting from what they are doing, so I would question the legitimacy of their move.
An Apple spokesperson told Digiday the new privacy feature will apply equally to Apple apps and it has strong support from regulators and privacy advocates for the feature.
“A user’s data belongs to them and they should get to decide whether to share their data and with whom. With iOS 14, we’re giving users the choice whether or not they want to allow apps to track them by linking their information with data from third parties for the purpose of advertising, or sharing their information with data brokers.”
Learn more: Opacity a key issue with the digital advertising industry
Luke Taylor, COO, and founder at adtech company TrafficGuard says the industry has done a poor job educating consumers on why tracking is used and how it supports online publishers.
“As an advertising industry, we’ve done a very poor job of communicating to the end-user as to why we’re tracking them, and why this is beneficial. Few consumers understand how any of this works, and with lack of understanding, it’s simple to just say no and block it.”
But, he says, Apple’s changes may ultimately add more opacity to an industry which has struggled with transparency and fraud since its inception, and the move is a step backwards.
Opacity has always been a characteristic of the digital advertising ecosystem – and unfortunately, removal of IDFA is going to exacerbate that, to the detriment of the advertiser. With less transparency, fraud is likely to flourish, compounding the challenges of attribution and optimisation.
Taylor says TrafficGuard, which offers ad fraud detection and mitigation services for online advertisers, has seen invalid traffic “masquerading” as devices with limited ad tracking (LAT) enabled.
“This has been a popular way for fraudsters to attempt to obfuscate details about the traffic they are sending. The removal of IDFA is going to take this to the next level.”
Apple is reportedly still in conversation with advertising groups about the rollout of its privacy feature. But the latest complaint suggests those talks may be breaking down.