The end of the beginning on mobile: ATT is enforced next week

Today, at its Spring Loaded product event, Apple announced that iOS 14.5 will be made available to consumers in the week starting April 26, 2021. Apple’s App Tracking Transparency privacy policy, a broad, sweeping set of regulations around how consumers’ data can be used for advertising targeting and measurement, will be enforced in iOS 14.5.

Edit: Apple has clarified that ATT enforcement will begin on April 26

Advertisers, developers, and consumers alike have been anticipating ATT since it was announced at WWDC last June (its rollout was officially delayed in September of last year until “Spring 2021”). While many advertisers have spent the past months preparing for the changes that ATT will inflict upon the mobile ecosystem, it’s not possible to predict the magnitude of ATT’s impact on any specific business with any precision. The entire mobile ecosystem has waited in a sort of limbo (or purgatory) for iOS 14.5 to be released to the public in order to shepherd their businesses across this new and unfamiliar landscape. In this sense, the release of iOS 14.5 to the general public is almost liberating.

For those lacking context on what exactly ATT is and how it will change the functional rhythm of the mobile ecosystem, some resources are here:

ATT is a change agent: the entire mobile app economy, and indeed much of digital advertising, will be upended through this privacy policy, which fundamentally alters the way mobile advertising is measured and targeted. Regardless of your beliefs around whether ATT improves consumer privacy or not, it’s impossible to dismiss the fact that digital advertising on mobile is conducted through what Apple defines as “tracking”: explicitly purging this activity from the ecosystem will require the mobile operating model to change.

In this way, ATT represents the end of the beginning of mobile. The way businesses have been built on mobile to date, since the paid app business model gave way to freemium on mobile shortly after the launch of the App Store in 2008, is becoming outmoded. The new chapter of mobile content monetization that I described in The mobile app economy’s second act relates to the new business models unlocked by changing platform features, accessibility, and user behaviors. But where those new capabilities are slow evolutions, ATT is a much more foundational, immediate tectonic shift. The 2010-2021 timeline, in that sense, can be considered mobile’s first epoch. We are now entering its second: one with wholly new distribution mechanics and strategies.

In Mobile’s post-attribution era, I pontificated over a mobile ecosystem that isn’t powered by deterministic attribution or precision measurement. This is the reality faced by advertisers in the ATT environment. The means by which content is distributed on mobile — and how that distribution is measured and assessed against business goals — are going to change. Content publishers and advertisers face a daunting set of new challenges in this change, but they also face incredible new opportunities to capture market share and develop competitive advantages. This post-ATT period, in some ways, serves as a fresh start for the entire ecosystem.

Photo by Jessica Ruscello on Unsplash