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Five things app developers need to watch out for on iOS 14

By John Allen

It’s official: Facebook and Apple are at war. At least, now they visibly are. The long-simmering tensions between the two erupted into the public eye last month. 

At a data privacy conference in Brussels, Apple CEO Tim Cook delivered a rare rebuke of Facebook’s approach to user privacy, saying: “If a business is built on misleading users, on data exploitation, on choices that are no choices at all, it does not deserve our praise. It deserves reform.” 

Apple’s plans for the future of iOS 14 triggered the furor, as the $4.1 trillion company looked to enhance user privacy features. The move, planned for early spring, will require all app developers to solicit consent before collecting user data. 

While developers have the luxury of time to evaluate their approach to this new regulatory environment, here are five key things to keep an eye on. 

#1: New privacy disclosures

With iOS 14, Apple will be making additions to the App Store in the form of new privacy notices. The aim is to help users understand what each app’s privacy practices are before they commit to a download. 

Developers must prepare for these disclosures, which will not only be extensive but must be submitted through App Store Connect. 

The information required by Apple will differ from developer to developer. To prevent misunderstandings, the company has created a series of prompts that developers can use to navigate the process (found here). Broadly speaking, those dealing in apps that sell online financial services will be among the most scrutinized. 

What will catch many out is Apple’s specification that the privacy practices of third-party partners must be provided. This particularly applies to those third-parties whose code is used within the application. Should dialer software, for example, be used in an app, even if it provides a completely different service, the developer must get in touch with the party responsible for it. 

Once the developer has included all of the requisite information, Apple will generate a privacy notice based on the details given. 

#2: IDFA has changed

Where once all developers had immediate access to the user ID for advertisers, Apple has sought to limit this, restricting developers’ abilities to monetize this information. Naturally, this particular stipulation has put Facebook, and now Snap Inc., on the offensive, as they risk losing $8 billion in revenue

Should Apple’s plans proceed in spite of Facebook’s pending antitrust lawsuit, users will have the choice of allowing individual apps access to this coveted information.

To combat the expected decline in the number of users willing to share IDFAs, developers must consider what incentives they can offer. Simply promising that the app in question is the best remote desktop screen sharing system is unlikely to work when users are flooded with alternatives. 

Serious thought should also be given to how developers communicate these incentives.

#3: Caution must be exercised on the subject of incentives

For those developers looking to incentivize users by gatekeeping app functionality, Apple is already a few steps ahead. Indeed, the App Store Review Guidelines make it clear that: “Apps should allow a user to get what they’ve paid for without performing additional tasks.”

These tasks can be any of the following:

  • Posting on social media
  • Uploading contacts
  • Checking into the app a specified number of times every day 
  • Rating the app
  • Watching videos 

The list goes on. Developers must not offer additional content or monetary compensation either. Should an online phone application incentivize users with a free vanity phone number, for instance, the developer would quickly be penalised. 

Apple has left very little room for developers to maneuver, and where the industry will go on the subject of incentives only time will tell. 

#4: Timing is everything 

One area that Apple has left noticeably vague is the subject of when developers must obtain user consent before they can access their IDFA.

This detail offers developers a decent amount of breathing room. For example, developers can delay the timing of a pop-up until the user has enjoyed the app for an extended amount of time. 

Once users are invested and the timing is right, then developers may push a consent-related pop-up. Users may have enjoyed their app-based two-line phone system, for example, enough to agree to this. 

However, this scenario does deprive developers of the ability to maximize the amount of tracked data. Every day that passes without user consent is a day without prospective revenue. 

Certainly, the correct timings will differ between developers, although rough guidelines may be drawn up after an appropriate amount of research and development by the industry. 

#5: Developers don’t need to disclose everything

Whilst Apple has certainly laid down the gauntlet for developers everywhere, there are inherent limitations to the information they require. Obviously, they can’t ask for everything. 

Developers must therefore be conscious of what information is optional and what isn’t. Potential items that fall into the former category are as follows:

  • Data that won’t be shared with data brokers
  • Data that isn’t to be used for advertising or marketing purposes 
  • Data that is infrequently collected and isn’t part of the app’s primary functionality 
  • Data that is provided by users themselves

It’s that last line, in particular, that should be of note to those looking to monetize potential data sources. Should users provide the information themselves, they may as well have used electronic signature software to declare their consent.

The question, then, will be how to incentivize them to do so without breaching Apple’s stringent guidelines. It’s one developers must quickly find answers to. 

Far and away, obtaining user consent is the most pressing issue for developers at this moment. Everything else, from the number of users sharing their IDFAs to the continued success of platforms like Facebook, will flow from there. 

John Allen, is the “Billion Dollar SEO,” known for effectively scaling enterprise SEO teams. With over 14 years of experience and an extensive background in building and optimizing digital marketing programs he currently directs all SEO activity for RingCentral, a global UCaaS, VoIP, and contact center software provider, globally. He has written for websites such as Hubspot and Toolbox. Here is his LinkedIn info.

Dennis Sellers
the authorDennis Sellers
Dennis Sellers is the news editor of Apple World Today. He’s been an “Apple journalist” since 1995 (starting with the first big Apple news site, MacCentral). He loves to read, run, play sports, and watch movies.