Digital Marketing Lead Generation Search Engine Optimization

What To Know About Mobile App Tracking & Ad Serving

As you may recall, major internet browsers, like Google Chrome, have rolled out plans to move away from third-party cookie tracking as part of a greater trend to increase privacy for web users. Learn more about The Impact of Cookie Removal on Ad Targeting in this blog post.

Now with Apple’s recent iOS updates (14.5+), apps must ask for permission before tracking your activity across other companies’ apps and websites. This change in data sharing also impacts how ads are targeted and served to mobile devices.

Let’s dive in.


Stats On Mobile App Usage - Blog Graphic

Given our dependence on smartphones for daily living, it may come as a surprise to some that the iPhone App Store and Google Play have only existed for a decade. But in the last decade, consumers have spent more and more time on their mobile devices each day. eMarketer reported that in 2020, the average daily time on smartphones was a whopping 3 hours 45 minutes. And our time spent on mobile apps averages 2 minutes and 30 seconds longer per use than when using a web browser experience. In fact, in the U.S., consumers spend more time now in mobile apps than they do watching television! Mobile apps now account for 70% of all digital media consumption (in total minutes). 

There are mobile apps for virtually every aspect of modern life, from managing finances and booking travel, to tracking health and fitness, communicating with friends and family, shopping, and engaging in entertainment. Statista and estimate that Google Play has roughly 3 million available apps, and Apple’s App Store offers just over 2 million. 

The global app economy has grown tremendously through the COVID pandemic, with users downloading and opening apps at rates that transcended prior projections. Global spending on mobile apps hit USD $112 billion in 2020, according to Adjust’s most recent report.


What Is App Tracking & What Does _App Tracking Transparency_ Mean_ - Blog Graphic

When enabled, app tracking generates a unique user ID for the device which then tracks activity within the original app as well as across that device into other apps and websites from the mobile browser. That data is then bundled, anonymized, and used by the app maker for future development as well as resold to ad networks and data exchanges to target advertising. 

Up to this point, mobile apps (and their developers) have enjoyed extensive access to everything on a mobile device from user information to location to behavioral usage data. There have also been minimal limitations on what those apps can share – with advertisers, investors, vendors, etc. When you consider how many apps are used daily, and how much time is spent on smart devices in general, that’s a staggering amount of data being tracked and shared!

So it’s no surprise that the latest technology move in the changing landscape of privacy regulations and advertising has been to enable “app tracking transparency” features. But what are these, and what does the change mean for marketers?

Essentially, “app tracking transparency” features reflect a move to ask app users for consent FIRST before allowing apps to track a user’s activity across apps and websites. App tracking isn’t new, it’s the move to ask for consent first that is new. Previously, the default was to always track unless a mobile device user intentionally went into their device settings and turned off the tracking or restricted its usage. Now, that scenario is being flipped so that tracking is not enabled unless a user permits it. 

Apple was the first to move in this direction with the iOS 14.5 update that rolled out in April 2021, and they continued the trend with more updates in iOS 15 in September 2021. 

Google has not yet released a similar feature for Android devices that is based on vendor cooperation but has taken a different approach. The Android 11 update included a permission auto-reset feature. This protects user privacy by automatically resetting the app’s runtime permissions when the app hasn’t been used for several months. reported that Google planned to roll this out to billions more devices in December 2021 on all devices with Google Play services running Android 6.0 (API level 23) or higher.


How Will Recent Mobile App Tracking Changes Impact Ad Serving_ - Blog Graphic

Facebook and other large apps have depended on tracking data to segment users and remarket to them with targeted, personalized ads. This recent move toward user consent for tracking is just one step toward industry privacy changes. Removing app tracking (and eventually browser cookies too) will result in less personalized ad serving by anonymizing users. But it isn’t the end of all ad targeting!

Scary for marketers? Perhaps. Insurmountable? No. It may reduce the data pool available for targeting & remarketing, but it can be replaced with alternatives like interest-based categories and with the collection and use of more first-party, opt-in data. We’re moving into a digital age where privacy and personalization will need to co-exist, but if marketing is done well, this can improve the effectiveness of our campaigns as well as increase trust in advertising. 

We love what Will DeKrey, HubSpot’s Group Product Manager of Campaigns, recently remarked regarding this issue, “This means that each individual company, large or small, will need to get better and better at building trusted relationships with their audience, earning the right to learn who they are and what they’re interested in.”

For more information on these shifts in advertising tracking read GTMA’s related blog article on cookie removal. Or, to learn more about advertising options customized for your particular marketing needs, contact our Partnerships team.


Digital Marketing Lead Generation Search Engine Optimization




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