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Google switches ad tracking tech ahead of Apple privacy update

Google is switching up app privacy for iPhone users to prep for iOS 14 policy changes.

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With Apple's new app-transparency policy kicking in soon, Google will remove certain advertiser tracking technology from the iPhone versions of its own apps and switch to a different kind, Google said in a blog post Wednesday. Popular Google apps for the iPhone, like Maps and YouTube, currently use a tool from Apple known as IDFA to track iPhone users' activity across platforms via a unique identifier. Under Apple's upcoming App Tracking Transparency update for iOS 14, iPhone users who download apps with IDFA will be prompted with a notification informing them and asking for consent.

"When Apple's policy goes into effect, we will no longer use information (such as IDFA) that falls under ATT for the handful of our iOS apps that currently use it for advertising purposes," Google said. "As such, we will not show the ATT prompt on those apps, in line with Apple's guidance. We are working hard to understand and comply with Apple's guidelines for all of our apps in the App Store."

With Apple's upcoming shift away from IDFA, Google faced a decision to either keep using IDFA on iOS versions of its app and thus require users to consent to be tracked via pop-up. Or it could switch to a new type of ad tracker. Google said it'll switch to another Apple tool, called SKAdNetwork. The company said it's pushing Apple to improve that framework, though, which is considered less effective at letting advertisers track you across devices. 

Google's announcement on tracker switching follows a public feud between Facebook and Apple over the privacy changes, in which Facebook went on a public campaign in December, warning that the consequences of IDFA's retirement would result in its users seeing less-personalized ads. 

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a nonprofit digital rights group, called Facebook's argument "laughable."