Report highlights disagreement from top Apple executives over scope of iOS anti-tracking measures

Report highlights disagreement from top Apple executives over scope of iOS anti-tracking measures

A new report has highlighted how three high-profile executives initially found themselves at odds during early deliberations over Apple’s app tracking transparency framework.

According to The report from Informationexecutives who disagreed on the extent to which Apple should protect user privacy in digital advertising included Apple’s Craig Federighi, who oversees software engineering, Phil Schiller, who manages the App Store, and Eddy Cue, Apple’s services manager.

In 2020, Apple rolled out App Tracking Transparency, a feature that lets users decide whether a specific app can track them across other apps and websites.

Technically, ATT hides a user’s ID from advertisers, also known as IDFA, of apps that a user hasn’t approved. Eric Neuenschwander, the creator of the identifier, grew concerned about the IDFA and how it was being used by apps to unethically track users, according to the report.

Eventually, the ad industry started using the IDFA in ways the privacy engineering team hadn’t anticipated, building an entire tracking ecosystem around it. Unscrupulous developers started using it to collect location data about users and sell that information to data brokers for extra revenue.

Around the same time, Neuenschwander began privately telling colleagues that he regretted creating the IDFA, in part because others like Google followed suit with a similar ID a year later. late, according to people who worked with him.

Even before ATT, Apple offered users the option to enable “Limit Ad Tracking” in iPhone settings. The toggle, however, was buried deep in the Settings app and often overlooked by users.

The Neuenschwander team, circa 2016, began to find new ways to enforce a user’s choice if they enabled “Limit Ad Tracking”, including outright masking of apps ID if a user has indicated that they do not wish to be tracked.

As these efforts did not limit the misuse of the IDFA, Apple’s software engineering manager stepped in to move forward with what would later become known as ATT.

According to the report, the idea of ​​ATT first emerged in 2019, when Federighi told Eric Neuenschwander “to do something about the IDFA”. Federighi had agreed to allocate some resources from the software engineering department to these efforts, calling it a “tentpole” idea, implying that it could be featured on stage at an event.

While those efforts were underway, Apple executives found themselves at odds, according to sources cited in the report familiar with Apple’s internal meetings.

Before Apple could make such a public announcement, three senior Apple vice presidents – Federighi, Cue and Schiller – had to come to a consensus on the scope of the feature in crimp tracking and how Apple could mitigate the expected impact of the changes. developers.

Schiller, who runs ‌App Store‌, was concerned about how a framework like ATT could impact the ‌App Store‌ ecosystem and the mobile ads that run in apps.

Schiller and his aides warned that “if new IDFA restrictions result in users seeing fewer ads, they may download fewer apps,” leading to fewer app downloads and potentially fewer apps. in-app purchases, of which Apple takes a share.

Cue, who was in charge of Apple’s iAd network, worried that ATT was going too far in eliminating tracking. “Cue’s team was particularly sensitive to the consequences of the IDFA’s kneeling,” the report noted.

Federighi, on the other hand, was all for a framework like ATT. Federighi “oversaw a team of privacy-conscious engineers who wanted to undermine the powers of an Apple tool that unscrupulous advertising companies, mobile developers and data brokers were exploiting to track iPhone user behavior” , Information reports.

Differing opinions from Apple executives eventually led to the final version of ATT, which offers a simple prompt to users when they first open an app whether or not they want to be tracked.

blue generic follow-up prompt

ATT prompt users see when they first open an app on iOS 14.5 and later

According to the report, Apple’s original idea for ATT was to allow users to disable tracking on all apps, but part of the concession executives won was to offer a toggle for each app.

The trio eventually agreed on a plan: iPhone users would have a choice whether or not to opt in to app tracking, which Apple executives said was more defensible if developers and the online advertising industry was backsliding, people familiar with the discussions said. They could also do this on a per-app basis, which Apple executives believe would also benefit advertisers, a person familiar with the matter said. This was a big change from Apple’s earlier IDFA controls, which enabled all apps to be tracked by default.

In the fall of 2019, Federighi instructed members of his software engineering department to begin developing ATT and have it ready by June 2020, when Apple would officially present it on stage at its Worldwide Developers Conference.

In the nine months leading up to the conference, members of Federighi’s team consulted with Apple lawyers to “treat decisions that might raise eyebrows with regulators with caution.” Federighi’s team was thorough in their planning for ATT, even figuring out if “tracking” was the right choice of word, and carefully designing the prompt users would see when they first opened an app.

In response to the report, an Apple spokesperson said Information that Apple teams are working collaboratively across the company “putting the same effort into privacy innovation that we put into all of our product designs, and the result is greater choice and better products.” superior quality for our customers”.

Information The full report is an interesting read that details the industry’s response to the ATT and the creation of the IDFA.