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Gaming apps set to be hardest hit by Apple iOS 14.5 tracking crackdown

·3 min read
A teenage girl plays the video game Fortnite, on an Apple iPhone X in Billerica, Massachusetts, USA, 24 August 2020. - CJ Gunther/EPA/Shutterstock
A teenage girl plays the video game Fortnite, on an Apple iPhone X in Billerica, Massachusetts, USA, 24 August 2020. - CJ Gunther/EPA/Shutterstock

Gaming apps were set to be hardest hit by Apple's new privacy crackdown on Monday as the iPhone launched its new consent pop-ups to help consumers understand how much data apps tracks.

Research by the mobile advertising firm AppsFlyer found an average of only 21pc of iPhone users choosing to let gaming apps access their personal data when shown one of the smartphone giant's data collection warnings.

That was lower than the average for all apps at 26pc and far below the rates enjoyed by photography and shopping apps, at 44pc and 35pc. Some types of gaming apps persuaded as few as 15pc.

The figures were an early indication of how Apple's latest operating system update, released last night, will affect iPhone app makers who have depended for years on being able to track users' identities across different apps. Users will see pop-ups for some apps as soon as they install iOS 14.5.

Facebook and Google's mobile advertising systems are built on the same ability, which will now be cut off unless users agree to be tracked.

Both companies have warned that the changes will hurt their revenue, and analysts will be closely watching the guidance they give when they report their first quarter earnings on Tuesday (for Google) and Wednesday (for Facebook).

Shani Rosenfelder, AppsFlyer's head of mobile insights, said: "In the gaming space, end-users adopt an experimental mindset. They simply try out new games without paying much attention to the brand behind them.

"Their initial connection to a game is almost non-existent, and any message that asks for tracking permissions is treated with caution.

"Many non-gaming apps, on the other hand, have a stronger brand affinity and are known to end users. With higher levels of trust, opt-in rates rise."

AppsFlyer's figures were more optimistic overall than early estimates, which had ranged from 2pc to 20pc. Gaming apps were the exception, with "social casino" and "hardcore" games worst affected.

However, Eric Seufert, a mobile advertising strategist and author of Mobile Dev Memo, said the reality would be harsher than AppsFlyer's figures because most apps depend on Google and Facebook, whose lower consumer trust levels may give them far lower opt-in rates.

Apple's new policy requires apps to get permission before accessing users' unique identifying numbers, known as IDFAs, which can then be used to track their smartphone habits or target them with adverts based on past behaviour.

App makers routinely grant Facebook and Google access to their users' IDFAs and then use their systems to "retarget" past users or check whether advertising campaigns are leading to actual app downloads.

Facebook has pushed back hard on the policy, buying adverts in major US newspapers accusing Apple of hurting small businesses and trying to lock down its platform for its own anti-competitive ends.

Many apps, including Facebook, have begun showing a "pre-prompt" before Apple's pop-up, explaining more about the purpose of data collection in an attempt to persuade users to say yes. However, Apple has blocked some such attempts.