Apple’s annual event harkens the end of fingerprinting and debuts SKAN 5
Another Apple Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC) is in the books, and this year’s global event brought several key indicators that the privacy-first era of app performance marketing is fully upon us. In its “Platform State of the Union” address on Monday, June 5, Apple previewed two key upcoming changes that app growth marketers and their partners need to prepare for in the coming months:
The End of Fingerprinting is no Longer a Probability, it’s a Certainty
Ever since AppTrackingTransparency (ATT) was revealed back in 2020, all corners of the app performance ecosystem have wondered how long fingerprinting would last in this new privacy-first world. Now the wondering is over with the announcement of Privacy Manifests and Required Reason APIs set to go into effect in spring ’24, effectively ending the reign of fingerprinting as a viable workaround to leveraging Apple’s privacy-preserving attribution framework, SKAdNetwork (SKAN).
As a companion designed to aid app developers when populating the Privacy Nutrition Labels required on their App Store product pages, each third-party SDK soon must submit their own Privacy Manifest that declares:
- Any user data accessed
- The specific purpose for which this data is used
Each Privacy Manifest must include the unique digital signature of the third-party SDK developer to ensure supply chain integrity. The driving rationale behind this new feature is that Apple has found that while some user data made available through API connections serves valuable purposes from a user experience aspect, there is also inherent potential for this data access to be misused for the purposes of fingerprinting.
Required Reason APIs & Points of Interest Instrument
Going forward, APIs with high potential for fingerprinting misuse will be categorized as “Required Reason APIs,” which can only be accessed if an allowable use case is declared within a SDK’s Privacy Manifest. To further assist app developers in identifying potential violations of ATT and fingerprinting policies across their partner ecosystem, XCode 15’s Points of Interest Instrument will surface instances when a third-party domain is suspected of tracking users across apps or sites without their permission.
Later this summer, Apple will clarify the allowable use cases for each type of user data accessible via its Required Reason APIs, and it will also publish a list of privacy-impacting third-party SDKs that present an elevated risk of violating user privacy preferences. As an additional step, Privacy-Impacting SDKs will be required to include a full copy of their code alongside each Privacy Manifest submission. In the fall, Apple will begin alerting app developers if a third-party SDK does not submit a properly documented Privacy Manifest with allowable use cases for accessing Required Reason APIs, which will become a requirement of the formal app review process starting in spring ’24.
SKAN Continues its Steady Cadence of Improvements with Support for Re-engagement
Apple continued its investment in making SKAN a workable solution for performance marketers by revealing that SKAN 5 is coming later this year, which will notably include support for measuring conversion events driven by re-engaging existing users. Re-engagement events will be captured when a user who has already installed an advertiser’s app clicks on an ad to open it. Additional details on SKAN 5 will come later this year, and while it’s anticipated that most other SKAN features will stay relatively constant, the encouraging news of support for re-engagement begins to address one of the biggest remaining gaps in SKAN.
The Full Force of ATT is About to Make Impact
While ATT has felt like an earthquake with cascading aftershocks from the start, it’s about to trigger a tsunami. Probabilistic attribution has been able to flourish as a workaround up until this point, but with Privacy Manifests set to bring this option to an end in early 2024, not to mention the steady progress of Android Privacy Sandbox, the entire app performance advertising landscape is set to be irrevocably reshaped next year with user-level identifiers being wiped from the map.
Apple’s enforcement of its developer policies prohibiting fingerprinting, which includes probabilistic attribution, is no longer an expectation but a reality. With Privacy Manifests and the XCode 15 Points of Interest Instrument, Apple is equipping app developers with tools that give visibility into how their third-party partners are leveraging user data as well as potentially tracking them across other apps or sites without their consent. Armed with this knowledge, app developers will be held accountable by Apple for ensuring that any third-party SDKs they work with must comply with ATT and developer policies prohibiting fingerprinting as part of the formal app review process starting in Spring ’24.
What These Changes Mean for Advertisers
Advertisers who have been leveraging probabilistic attribution need to set plans in motion to adopt SKAN, Apple’s only sanctioned method for attributing campaign performance in a privacy-first world, as soon as possible. They should also start collaborating with all the third-party SDKs their apps leverage to validate that user data is only accessed for allowable reasons and ensure compliance with ATT throughout their full supply chain.
There’s Never Been a More Critical Time to Make SKAN a Priority
The introduction of SKAN 4 in 2022 came with a host of notable improvements we covered in an earlier post, and though still early, adoption has been rapidly accelerating as 2023 progresses. App performance marketers who have already been adapting their strategies by embracing SKAN are in a great position to thrive amidst the latest changes on the horizon. For app marketers who haven’t been as aggressive with their transition plans, there’s a wealth of learnings and resources available from partners like InMobi to help make their journey as frictionless as possible. Our SKAN resource library is a great place to start. Here are a few highlights:
We’ll be keeping a close eye out for more news later this year on the additional improvements SKAN 5 brings to the table. The announced support for capturing re-engagement conversion events with existing users in SKAN 5 addresses one of the most pervasive pain points of the framework by delineating conversion events driven by existing users from those of new installs, making it a more viable solution than ever for understanding campaign performance and driving app growth across the full customer journey while respecting user privacy.
Whether just starting your SKAN journey, or looking to build on successes you’ve already realized, the team at InMobi is here to help. You can reach our SKAN experts at performance[at]inmobi.com.