What Is Limit Ad Tracking (LAT) and How Does It Affect Mobile Marketing?

By Vungle | June 4, 2021

Apple’s enforcement of Limit Ad Tracking impacts every developer and publisher operating in the iOS ecosystem. A glance at contemporary think pieces reveals strings of new terminology and a general sense of concern but doesn’t provide the full picture.

At the heart of it all is privacy. The Limit Ad Tracking setting in iOS gives consumers more control over who has access to their data and what they’re allowed to do with it.

In this article, we’ll explore why such a simple idea is capable of sending shockwaves through an entire industry, but understanding LAT requires that we first understand its relationship with the Identifier for Advertisers or IDFA.

What is IDFA?

The Identifier for Advertisers (IDFA) is a unique string of characters that Apple randomly assigns to a particular device, like a mobile phone, for the benefit of ad targeting. Advertisers use IDFA to track what people do on their iOS devices. They can collect contextual information about the device as well as behavioral data about the apps a user prefers and how often they engage with advertising or in-app purchases. IDFA can provide insights about online browsing habits, how often a user leaves items in a digital shopping cart, how long they play a game before making an in-app purchase, or how long it’s been since they opened a particular app.

That information lets advertisers target users with ads matched to their behaviors. A lapsed player might get a “We Miss You!” ad designed to woo them back to the game, while someone searching for nearby shoe stores might see ads for Zappos. IDFA is also used for attribution, which is a key component of user acquisition.

What is Limit Ad Tracking?

Limit Ad Tracking (LAT) is an iOS feature that lets users opt out of IDFA, drastically reducing the amount of information advertisers can glean from their devices. Toggling LAT zeroes out the string of numbers and letters used for a device’s unique IDFA, effectively rendering it anonymous. They’ll still be served ads — Limit Ad Tracking isn’t an ad blocker — but those ads can no longer be targeted to them based on their behavior. Ad tech companies can still collect some data, but its scope is limited to contextual data points like the OS version of the device in use, the version of the app, the app store subcategory, and so forth.

Clever developers might entertain the idea of gating some of their app’s functionality behind a tracking permission prompt, but that’s a no-go if they want to be listed on Apple’s App Store. Similarly, they can’t use a non-IDFA tracker to identify a user, nor can they use device-specific information like the user’s network connection. Apple’s guidelines are very clear: Unless a user’s consent is obtained through the AppTrackingTransparency (ATT) framework, their data is off-limits. That said, developers are permitted to obtain data in other ways, such as on their own website. LAT and Apple’s restrictions apply solely to interactions via the app itself.

Also Read: What Is App Tracking Transparency (ATT) and How Does It Affect Mobile Marketing?

It’s important to note that Limit Ad Tracking doesn’t completely remove a user from Apple’s own targeted ads. Apple can still put users into segments based on personal details like their gender, age, and the kinds of content they have on the device and use those segments to target ads in the Apple advertising ecosystem, which includes Apple Search Ads or those delivered via Apple’s owned media products like Apple News. Per Apple: “Information about you may be used to determine which segments you’re assigned to, and thus, which ads you receive. To protect your privacy, targeted ads are delivered only if more than 5,000 people meet the targeting criteria.” Opting out of what Apple calls “Personalized Ads” requires a unique opt-out process that can be toggled from the settings menu of iOS and macOS devices.

Is there Limit Ad Tracking on Android?

The Android operating system also has a way for users to opt out of ad personalization, which effectively serves the same purpose as LAT. At the time of writing, Google isn’t enforcing privacy the way Apple is, though that’s going to change in late 2021 when Google zeroes out the Android advertising ID for users that opt out of ad tracking and personalization just like Apple’s LAT. Today, the overall percentage of users opting out of personalized ads on Android is far lower than on iOS. That could be considered great news for mobile marketers working on a global scale, as Android users outnumber Apple adopters by more than 2 to 1 worldwide. The numbers flip in the U.S., however, where consumers favor iOS over Android.

Also Read: Android Ad Spend Growth Steals the Spotlight From iOS 14.5

Why does this matter now?

Prior to iOS 10, devices still collected IDFA data unless the user enabled Limit Ad Tracking. The big change with iOS 14 is that now users have to opt in to IDFA on an app-by-app basis, as opposed to opting out. This is in accordance with the design convention known as privacy by design that has gained popularity as the world continues to place a greater value on digital privacy.

In this new era of mobile marketing, user information will no longer be collected by default, it has to be offered up willingly. In addition, as of iOS 14, Apple requires developers to disclose how they plan to use the information they collect via IDFA and will include that information on the app’s page in the App Store.

Challenges of Limit Ad Tracking and how Vungle can help

The obvious downside of LAT is that without heavy investments in contextual targeting, many traditional mobile ad platforms will be shooting in the dark. IDFA let them place ads where they were likely to perform best by serving them to consumers predisposed to be interested in them. Without IDFA, that level of behavioral targeting becomes impossible, leaving advertisers to depend on contextual targeting criteria.

Thankfully, Vungle can help. By enriching our mobile advertising platform with the unprecedentedly detailed contextual data of GameRefinery by Vungle and the powerful predictive intelligence of AlgoLift by Vungle, we are now uniquely positioned to provide post-iOS 14 ad performance above and beyond what other mobile ad networks can do.

Vungle advertisers are able to leverage a collection of highly specific marketing signals not available anywhere else and use that information to predict future value and optimize user acquisition campaigns. Our combination of ad intelligence and automated bid management makes Vungle the perfect growth partner for the ATT era of mobile marketing.

Want to learn more? Contact us today to get started.