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Welcome to the Attribution Apocalypse 💥

WWDC happened this week. As usual, Apple announced plenty of cool, new stuff. But perhaps the biggest change didn’t even make it into the press release: the IDFA (IDentifier For Advertising) is now opt-in on iOS.

This probably doesn’t sound like a big deal, so here’s another way to put it: if the mobile ecosystem is a car engine, Apple just told the entire world that gasoline is going away in less than three months.

Whether you think this is a good thing or not probably depends a lot on who writes your paycheck:

  • If you’re a regular iOS user, you’d probably think this is generally a good thing…if you knew it was happening. But you also wouldn’t care too much, because you’re on board with Apple’s value prop of creating a curated, ‘safe’ mobile ecosystem.
  • If you work for Apple, this is a natural evolution of the principled stand your company has been making all along.
  • If you’re a consumer privacy advocate, it’s the best news you’ve heard in months, and you’re hoping Apple has finally found a way to wipe out the ‘dirty data’ ecosystem you’ve been trying to eliminate for years — in fact, you probably think they didn’t go far enough.
  • If you work for a major walled garden platform, you might be cautiously optimistic. This move clearly creates a lot of mess for you in the short-term, but GDPR has proved that changes like these tend to make the rich richer.
  • If you’re an app developer, you’re wondering what all this means for you, and whose marketing spin you should believe right now.
  • If you’re in the mobile ad industry, your ears are still ringing and you’re not sure where the floor went. Can your company even exist this time next year, if Apple just declared war on your business model?

There’s plenty of chaos this week, and that’s going to continue for a while. But here’s a prediction: even if consumers don’t notice the difference right away, we’re about to experience one of the biggest ecosystem shifts since the introduction of the App Store itself.

Alex Bauer


This is what Apple actually changed: it’s a new permission dialog, just like what users already see for push notifications, location data, and more.

But unlike those permissions, Apple clearly has an ‘opinion’ on this one.

If you’re responsible for a mobile app, the top thing in your mind right now should be ‘okay, what do I need to do?’

Let’s start with some actionable resources:

Interesting Reads

Industry Buzz

Initial reaction from the mobile industry

So far, most of the players have been scrupulously careful to say as little as possible of substance. The thinking is probably this: if Apple’s playing a game of musical chairs, no one wants to be the first to stand up.

For those of you working with one of the traditional mobile measurement partners, here’s a round-up of the public statements so far:


AppsFlyer is reaching out to everyone (including Apple) for discussions on what the future of the attribution industry will look like.


Adjust has laid out the options they see for the future of mobile attribution, but they don’t seem particularly enthusiastic about any of them, and highlight that there are still a lot of unknowns to figure out.


Kochava was the last MMP to make a public statement, and it’s honestly a bit light on details. With their focus on data resale (i.e., with the Kochava Collective), which Apple seems to view as particularly toxic, I imagine there are some serious conversations going on in Sandpoint, Idaho right now.


Singular is betting big on an integration with Apple’s updated SKAdNetwork proposal. Given their existing focus on data ingestion, this isn’t a big surprise.

Outside of MMPs, the industry reaction so far has been remarkable mostly for its absence: there have been a few blog posts from miscellaneous companies like Button and LiveRamp, but that’s about it. What everyone is really waiting for at this point is more official clarification from Apple.

Walled Gardens

So…what is SKAdNetwork?

Apple does have a proposal for something to replace the IDFA. It’s called SKAdNetwork, and a version of it has been around for several years now.

If you want to understand how Apple says it will work, watch this video for the high-level (jump to 30:00), or this this video (jump to 37:40) for the technical details.

It’s elegant, in a very Apple-esque way. But just like Apple’s glistening spaceship-shaped HQ — which has an ongoing issue with employees getting injured by walking into glass walls they literally can’t see — it comes across as something designed and built inside an echo chamber by a team with very little hands-on experience outside of Apple Park.

If SKAdNetwork becomes the industry standard, it means the end of device-level attribution data on iOS. That’s clearly Apple’s objective, but nobody has any idea what that future would look like.