The update heard 'round the (media) world

I'm sure most of you who leverage any kind of mobile marketing, advertising, tracking or targeting are aware of August's iOS 10 update. More specifically, at AUSAM we're thinking about the updates to the Limit Ad Tracking (LAT) feature.

The Backstory: The equivalent of the cookie in the mobile app world is the Device Identifier (Device ID or DID) - Apple and Google both have their own DIDs for the iOS and Android operating systems. Apple uses the Identifier for Advertising (IDFA or IDA) and Google uses the Google Advertising ID (GAID). Similar to cookies, these IDs can be reset by the user and are used by marketers for all kinds of things including behavioral targeting, advertising attribution and frequency capping - among others.

In addition to being able to reset your DID to limit marketers' ability to track your device, Apple also has a feature called "Limit Ad Tracking". In previous versions of iOS enabling LAT meant Apple sent a signal to advertisers that the user enabled this setting and the thought was that marketers, app developers and others would honor this as an "opt-out" from online behavioral advertising (OBA). While some networks honored LAT as an opt-out, others did not. There was no way to police, enforce or punish those who did not honor the spirit of LAT.

Thus spurring a few changes with iOS 10. When a user enables LAT in iOS 10, Apple will no longer pass the IDFA for the device. Instead Apple passes a string of zeroes to prevent anyone from using, or misusing, IDFA for users who have enabled LAT.

The funny part about this was when this update was made many companies in the advertising world were quick to post blogs, releases and communicate with their partners that this change would not affect their ability to track users for advertising attribution, targeting, frequency capping and the like. This is largely due to the rise in cross-device graphs whereby users are mapped to unique devices either by a deterministic key (e.g. an email address) or through probabilistic means. Because of probabilistic IDs, many companies don't actually need the IDFA to track a unique device with a high degree of certainty.

But if the whole point of LAT is for a user to be able to opt-out of being tracked, isn't tracking them anyway an abuse of that opt-out? As an industry we have spent so much time on self-regulatory programs such as Ad Choices and working with industry trade organizations like the DAA and NAI to show regulators we give consumers a choice of how they want their data used and honor those preferences. In that light it seems inappropriate for companies to boast that LAT will not impact their ability to track and measure devices.

We spoke with one of the leading cross-device companies in display advertising to ask their thoughts. This is a European company which is important to note as European privacy regulations are far and away more stringent than those in the US. After posing the question above. The answer we got back was anytime they receive the LAT enabled signal from a device (even before the iOS 10 update) they treat it as an opt-out and do not include that device in their device graph. They couldn't speak for what their competitors do in this situation, but it seems to us (and probably to the FTC) that respecting LAT as an opt-out is the best choice.

Let us know what you think and what you've heard from others in the comments!