App Tracking Transparency aimed to solve a problem of Apple’s creation


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Apple’s introduction of App Tracking Transparency rocked the digital ad industry, but the decision to implement the program was less an attack on tech rivals and more an attempt to fix a problem Apple itself introduced.

App Tracking Transparency has made a serious impact in the world of advertising. By empowering users to deny apps from acquiring detailed tracking data, it has greatly affected marketers who use highly-targeted advertising.

In the case of Meta, it said in February it was taking a $10 billion revenue hit in 2022 because of App Tracking Transparency. However, it seems Apple’s intention was more to do with trying to maintain user privacy by cutting the power of a system that it created in the first place.

Speaking to The Information, people who knew of Apple’s decision-making over App Tracking Transparency insisted Meta and others weren’t primary targets for the measure. ATT was all about preventing highly abusive forms of tracking that was abused by marketers.

Apple executives acknowledged that they had created a big problem in digital tracking by creating the Identifier for Advertisers (IDFA), a device identifier that marketers used to track data from a specific device for targeted advertising.

“They opened a proverbial Pandora’s box,” said Gartner analyst Eric Schmitt.

IDFA was created shortly after Erik Neuenschwander took the reins of the privacy engineering team, and was intended as a relatively harmless tool for targeted advertising. Rather than a direct tracking code directly referring to a device, IDFA would use a 32-character randomized string to track users from device to device, but in a way that could be disabled by the user.

However, as the ad industry changed and became more reliant on tracking, the team worried that tracking had become too invasive. This included combining data from apps and services to create profiles, along with some abusing IDFA to keep track of a user’s physical location.