After some iOS apps using HTML5 first-party cookies as a way of tracking users were rejected during Apple’s app review process, a recent report declared the move was the beginning of a broader policy push to get developers, publishers and advertisers to start using Apple’s Advertising Identifier. But that might not be the case.
The apps in question were rejected by App Store reviewers because of a user interface problem, not expressly because of the use of HTML5 cookies in apps, according to a source familiar with the situation. And there is no change in Apple’s policy, no new enforcement and “no crackdown” on cookie tracking at all, this source said.
Techcrunch reported on Monday that the rejections “signaled a push to its own identifier technology” and compared this move to how Apple began enforcing the move away from unique device identifiers (UDIDs) in late 2011. That was when Apple began to reject some apps that were using UDIDs, which are an anonymized number connected to an iOS device that publishers and advertisers could use to track user behavior and better target ads to those users. But UDIDs weren’t as anonymous or private as people thought; with just a bit more information like the user’s birthdate, gender or email address, which some apps were tracking, his or her location and identity could be resolved.
That’s why in September 2012 Apple introduced the Advertising Identifier, which let users have more privacy and gave them more control over what publishers and advertisers know about their use of apps. But Apple, so far anyway, is not forcing anyone to use it.
There are a handful of different tracking methods in use right now, said Craig Palli, vice president of business development at mobile app marketing company Fiksu. UDID has been officially phased out by Apple and few apps continue to use it, but there are five or six other methods also in use, including cookie tracking and the use of MAC addresses.
The apps in question (which have not been officially named and which sources were unwilling to relay) were rejected over clause 10.6 in the App Store guidelines, I’m told. That rule (rather vaguely) states, “If your user interface is complex or less than very good, it may be rejected.” These apps, once launched, briefly kick a user over to mobile Safari before bringing them back to the app — in other words, an experience that is not Apple’s ideal user interface for a native app. The company has “always rejected” apps that do that, this source said.
It is very possible that Apple will eventually want to move all apps over to the Advertising Identifier. But whatever is happening now isn’t really comparable — at least yet — to what happened with UDIDs, according to the source. Developers have not been told specifically by Apple to either use Advertising Identifier or not use other tracking methods like cookie tracking they way they were told in 2012 to stop using UDIDs.
Apple did not comment on whether the company would begin enforcing use of Advertising Identifier.
Palli, who is also quoted in the original story, notes that he personally knows of 10 apps — which he did not name — that use cookie tracking and were approved by Apple in the last month. “Some very large brands have been rejected, but those [app] rejections are not pervasive across the ecosystem,” he noted. In other words, there’s no real pattern yet in the rejections, perhaps other than a user interface rule violation.