Do Apple’s Updated Developer Guidelines Hint at the Future of Its IDFA?

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Apple’s recent changes to its developer guidelines regarding push notifications have some in the mobile advertising community wondering if the tech giant is taking another step toward changing how it identifies and tracks users.

The developer guidelines previously stated that push notifications “should not be used for advertising, promotions, or direct marketing purposes.”

That changed last week with an update that reads: “Push Notifications should not be used for promotions or direct marketing purposes unless customers have explicitly opted in to receive them via consent language displayed in your app’s UI, and you provide a method in your app for a user to opt-out from receiving such messages.”

On the surface, Apple’s changes may not be that drastic. App owners routinely send promotional and marketing messages via push notification to opted-in users, despite it being against Apple’s pre-updated guidelines. But the sheer volume of apps makes it a hard practice to stop.

“Push notifications have been used for marketing and promotions ever since they were first introduced, and would have been out of policy until this change,” said Alex Austin, CEO of mobile tech firm Branch. “This fits within a broader trend of Apple relaxing policy on issues that they just can’t possibly enforce at scale.”

Below the surface, Apple’s updated developer guidelines may be another signal of what experts believe to be the impending decline of mobile advertising IDs, including Apple’s IDFA.

Advertisers rely on mobile ad IDs to track and target users. In September 2018, Apple introduced the SKAdNetwork, a privacy-focused API for app developers to measure in-app ad campaigns, that could lay the foundation for a new in-app ad ecosystem.

Brian Wilson, director of product management at Kochava, believes Apple will likely phase out its IDFA this year, and is positioning the SKAdNetwork as a solution to uphold its advertising ecosystem, should the IDFA go away.

“What is still unclear is how the changing of push notifications of Apple plays into the greater scheme,” said Wilson. “At first blush, it appears to be that Apple will allow … the behavior that is being exhibited by certain apps today with promotional push notifications.”

Apple’s updated guidelines could extend the SKAdNetwork, where app developers need to register their monetization partners, to include push notifications.

Nadir Garouche, senior growth manager at Tilting Point, said running in-app and push ads through a single API could create a closed-loop environment that would still allow app developers to target users.

“Apple has so much [in-app] inventory and billions of devices that could be used by advertisers to reach their current users, or new users,” said Garouche.

Apple has not responded to Adweek’s request for comment.

The update also opens up the possibility of app developers selling their push ad space to third parties looking to advertise or promote their own products, said Wilson.

Apple is tinkering with its mobile ad practices after reporting record-high revenues—though it didn’t give a specific number—for its app store search ad business in January’s earnings report.

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