Is there an official effort to crack down on iOS developers' cookie-based tracking to push them toward Apple's own ad tracking system? According to a recent report from TechCrunch that cites various industry sources, the answer is yes—Apple has reportedly begun aggressively rejecting apps that make use of their own tracking system instead of Apple's. The report claims app makers are "starting to have their apps rejected by Apple’s App Review team" as a result, indicating a shift in Apple's internal app approval policies.
But according to our own sources at Apple, there is no such policy change in progress.
Let's back up a few steps. Certain app makers choose to use their own Web-based cookie tracking within their apps—the apps launch a webpage upon first launch in order to set the cookie (or read an existing one). The page closes upon completion of the cookie read/write, allowing the user to continue using the app.
Some app makers have chosen to use this method as an alternate to the now-deprecated UDID, which previously allowed developers to track a user's preferences and activities based on a unique device ID. Apple began to crack down on UDID usage last year and introduced its own ad tracking system with the launch of iOS 6 in September of 2012. (For those looking for more info, OOOn the difference between the old and new tracking systems in October.) Apple's new system is called the Identifier for Advertising, or IDFA.
But apparently Apple isn't fond of the cookie-in-a-webpage-within-an-app method—not because it's not the IDFA, but because it violates section 10.6 of the company's user interface guidelines:
"Apple and our customers place a high value on simple, refined, creative, well thought through interfaces. They take more work but are worth it. Apple sets a high bar. If your user interface is complex or less than very good, it may be rejected," reads section 10.6 of the guidelines sent to Ars.
According to a source familiar with Apple's app approval policies, this is the rule the company has always used to reject apps that force a webpage to open upon launch, regardless of whether a cookie is being set. "It's a bad user experience," our source said. "For years we've been rejecting apps for 10.6." (It's worth noting that numerous apps are Web portals themselves and are able to use their own cookies without having to open a separate webpage upon launch.) This source said there has been no official push for developers to adopt Apple's IDFA—in fact, there has been no new communication internally on the issue at all.
So why does it seem that apps using Web-based cookies are being rejected more often now than before? The answer is anyone's guess; those experienced in the App Store submission process know that there are many reviewers who may not all enforce the same policies consistently across the board.
Even some of TechCrunch's sources appear to be aware that the user interface guideline violations are what's getting them down—"Perhaps [Apple's reviewers] don’t think that a flipping motion is in keeping with that user experience," mobile app maker Fiksu's Craig Palli told the site. Indeed, it seems that app makers who were hoping to get away with 10.6 violations aren't having the kind of luck they used to have, though it's not entirely their fault for thinking a policy change is taking place. The incident highlights once again the challenges presented by Apple's inconsistently applied rules, giving developers a moving target when it comes to what's acceptable in the App Store and what's not.