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iOS 14.5 and Countly: a Match Made in the Clouds

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April 28, 2021
Countly Team
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According to Statcounter, Apple’s iOS penetration in the global mobile scene is around 27%, which is more than considerable. However, this penetration is at almost 50% in markets such as Europe or North America which coincidentally, are those at the forefront of enacting strict data privacy policies. So when Apple announced new user data privacy regulations for app developers as part of its iOS 14.5 release, it was not too shocking. After all, Apple had already started a feud with Facebook during 2020 regarding advertising. But it underscored the importance of choosing the right platform for product analytics by companies that care about data privacy.

So sure, the industry saw Apple’s move coming but that does not mean that no ripples were made. Again, a change of this magnitude has thrown developers for a loop, wondering what fits iOS 14.5 requirements and what does not. At Countly, we have been receiving several inquiries regarding this scope, and wanted to make things simpler to fully understand the advantage of using Countly during a change like this.

Tracking? Permission to Collect?

First things first. What are the changes? Apple is introducing, in its beta versions of iOS 14.5, iPadOS 14.5, and tvOS 14.5, restrictions on SDKs that share user data that allows to track users across websites and devices. Failure to comply with this will ultimately lead to a rejection of the app from the App Store.

For context and in Apple’s words:

  • Tracking refers to linking data collected from your app about a particular end-user or device, such as a user ID, device ID, or profile, with Third-Party Data for targeted advertising or advertising measurement purposes, or sharing data collected from your app about a particular end-user or device with a data broker.”
  • Collect refers to transmitting data off the device in a way that allows you and/or your third-party partners to access it for a period longer than what is necessary to service the transmitted request in real time.”

What this means for app developers is that, with iOS 14.5, they will have to inform Apple about their privacy policies and also thoroughly describe exactly what user information is being collected by third-party code and for what purposes. From a practical standpoint, this forces app developers to start needing analytics, push notifications, and crash reporting tools not involved in advertising.

On the other hand, for the end user this means that every app tracking their data through third-party code will have to ask them if they are willing to opt-in to this tracking. The bottom line is that now the user will be the one that gives permission to the app to track them, and industry estimates are already placing the number of users opting in at less than 15%. Therefore, the impact will be massive for everyone involved in app development, from product managers to marketers.

AppTrackingTransparency Framework

Long story short, iOS 14.5 unveils the AppTrackingTransparency framework as a way for Apple to make developers comply with the changes. Its purpose is to regulate and centralize how apps’ privacy measures are implemented and to display a prompt to the end user with the reasons behind the tracking and to get their permission — or not.

The reality is that most — if not all — developers depend on third-party SDKs on some capacity for their data analytics, and this consent mechanism particularly targets this practice. Many of the major free SDKs anticipated Apple’s move, forcing them to review how user data was being tracked and shared with advertisers. Facebook even decided to get rid of its analytics platform.

In fact, in the iOS 14.5 announcement, Apple makes it very clear that regardless of whose code it is, the developers are ultimately responsible for all code used in their apps. This leads the app developers to look back into their code and navigate their SDKs’ documentation to validate their compliance with these, and other ever-increasing, data privacy regulations.

Effects on Countly

The documentation from Apple, both related to this release and the privacy guidelines, can leave developers scratching their heads and many have turned to us with questions.

Applying Apple’s AppTrackingTransparency framework implies that starting with iOS 14.5, iPadOS 14.5, and tvOS 14.5, any iOS app has to receive the user’s permission via an opt-in dialog to track them or access their device’s advertising identifier. This does not affect the way that Countly collects data because our customers own all the data they collect: no external companies have access to the users’ data at any point.

On that note, our ethos has always been, regardless of the industry evolution, to build a product around users’ trust, not around capitalizing on user data and adding privacy as an afterthought. At Countly, we built our analytics and innovation platform to give you complete visibility and control over how your analytics data is sent from the SDKs, where the analytics server and database are located, and who has access to which parts of the data.

Why This Matters

The release of iOS 14.5 marks a definite turn of a trend that started with the enactment of privacy policies, such as GDPR and HIPAA. Major changes like Apple’s new regulations make a note of an evolution as the tech stack ecosystem shifts toward heightened privacy and acts as a reminder of why it is essential to choose vendors that align with the interests of your applications and your users.

For our current customers, this acts as a reassurance that Countly has allowed them to be ahead of this evolution. But of course, if concerns prevail, drop us a line! And for those struggling to keep up with new developments like these, book your demo with us today and discover how easy it is to switch to a solution that will always keep you on the privacy-compliant side!

taGS
Apple
Product Development
Product Management
Privacy
Data Security
GDPR

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