Apple’s New Ad Conversion Tracking Will Benefit User Privacy

Apple has released new developer APIs that will allow mobile advertising conversion tracking while protecting individual user privacy.

The new APIs are part of the StoreKit framework and include a new class called SKAdNetwork. Advertising networks will be able to serve advertisements which contain data that associates the advertisement with a particular advertising campaign. If a user chooses to install and launch the app after interacting with that advertisement, Apple will attribute that installation to the advertising campaign.

This isn’t substantially different from a typical mobile advertisement conversion tracking flow, but there will be major positive benefits to user privacy. Following the installation, Apple will only send five parameters back to the advertising network and they do not contain any user identifiable information.

This is a major improvement over previous app installation conversion tracking options. Major ad networks such as Google and Facebook currently require apps to install proprietary closed-source SDKs in order for apps to implement mobile conversion tracking on iOS. These SDKs have access to any information that is available to the host app which can include access to location, contacts, health information, photos, and more. With the new set of APIs, Apple will become the intermediary between the app and advertising network for conversion tracking, eliminating the need for apps to install third-party ad SDKs which potentially expose sensitive user data.

These changes will require the advertising network to register with Apple in order to receive the app installation web callback. It’s not clear which, if any, ad networks currently support these new APIs. I can’t see Google and Facebook being thrilled about implementing support for this, but given the recent scandal involving Cambridge Analytica, Apple should have extra leverage to push them in this direction.

Apple released the SKAdNetwork APIs as part of the iOS 11.3 and tvOS 11.3 SDK update on March 29, 2018.

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