Senior Apple Executives Worked Together to Create the App Tracking Transparency Framework We Know Today

BY Chandraveer Mathur

Published 14 Mar 2022

Targeted Advertising

A new report shed light on three senior Apple executives’ insightful and opposing thoughts when the company was drafting the App Tracking Transparency (ATT) framework. The ATT guidelines have been around for a couple of years now, and the report shows what went on behind the scenes at Apple before it was unveiled to the masses.

To recall, Apple’s ATT policy was a step to combat invasive targeted advertising. It hid the Identity for Advertisers (IDFA) tags of every iPhone user who opted in so the advertisers could not track their activity across platforms. The framework drew heavy flak from Facebook and other businesses that relied on ads so users could browse their platforms for free. At one point, Facebook even ran full-page newspaper advertisements explaining how Apple’s ATT policy would harm small businesses.

IDFA Tags Became a Bane

A report from The Information explains that the IDFA’s creator Eric Neuenschwander began to regret his creation because Google mimicked it a year later, and the advertising industry began to misuse IDFA tags. Some companies had construed systems to track unsuspecting internet scrollers’ activity so that they could sell location data for an extra buck. Neuenschwander’s team tried hiding the user’s IDFA tag from advertisers if they enabled the “Limit ad tracking” toggle to counter the misuse. However, this was of no avail.

The report claims that Apple’s head of software engineering Craig Federighi stepped in at this time. The idea for ATT first came in 2019, and Federighi requested Neuenschwander to “do something about IDFA” with assistance from Apple’s software engineering department.

Three-Way Agreement

Anonymous sources familiar with internal discussions at the time told The Information that Federighi had to “come to a consensus” about ATT with Apple’s head of the App Store Philip Schiller and the company’s head of services Eddy Cue. Schiller reportedly believed that people might download fewer apps if IDFA resulted in them seeing fewer ads. Consequently, in-app purchases (IAPs) could be hurt, and Apple’s revenue model could be hurt since it earns a commission on IAPs.

Meanwhile, Eddy Cue’s team was “especially sensitive” to the consequences because it feared Apple would go too far in eliminating tracking. So, the report explains that Apple’s initial idea was to let iPhone and iPad users choose to disable tracking across all apps. Later the policy was modified to allow per-app toggles.

“The trio eventually settled on a plan: iPhone users would have a choice of whether to opt into app tracking, which Apple executives felt was more defensible if developers and the online advertising industry pushed back, people familiar with the discussions said. They would also be able to do this on a per-app basis, which Apple executives also felt would benefit advertisers, a person familiar with the matter said. This was a big change from Apple’s earlier IDFA controls, which enabled tracking across all apps by default.”

ATT as We Know It

Development for the ATT framework commenced in 2019, intending to finish by June 2020, just in time for Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference. Fedrerighi’s team also collaborated with Apple’s legal team to ensure the ATT framework doesn’t set off regulatory concerns. The groups reportedly mulled over whether or not Apple should use “tracking” in the prompt app users would see.

Apple told The Information that teams put “the same effort into privacy innovation as we put into all of our product designs, and the result is greater choice and superior products for our customers.”

Today, the ATT framework shows iPhone users a prompt when they open an app for the first time. The prompt lets users choose whether or not they want to be tracked for advertising purposes.

[Via The Information]