Mozilla Explains: What is IDFA and why is this iOS update important?

During last week’s Apple event, the team announced a lot of new products and a new iPhone color, but the news that can have the biggest impact on all iPhone users launched today with iOS 14.5. They are finally giving users the option to get rid of IDFA, or identifier for advertisers, something that Mozilla has been asking for since 2019.

What is IDFA?

IDFA, or identifier for advertisers, is a random identification number, similar to a cookie, that tracks what you do in apps on your device. Each iPhone comes equipped with its own unique ID attached, which allows advertisers to track your interactions from what you click on, to what apps you install, to what videos you watch. The New York Times did an investigation last year that found data brokers were able to link these IDs with other information like name, location or email address to make complex user profiles, which isn’t great for your privacy.

Has my IDFA been tracking me?

If you have an iPhone and didn’t turn this identifier off, then yes. It was possible to turn it off before, but you had to manually go in and do it yourself. Almost 70% of people did not turn off the tracker, according to a 2020 study by the analytics platform, Singular, which found that only 31.5% of people had it turned off.

Mozilla called it out as a problem and launched a petition in 2019, asking Apple to change IDFA access by resetting users’ IDFA every month. When Apple announced they would be making a change to IDFA in the coming months, Mozilla released a thank you with signatures from 40,000 users.

Does this mean I don’t need to worry about IDFA anymore?

Not exactly. Apple isn’t getting rid of IDFA completely, but they are letting you choose whether it’s on or off. And this time you won’t have to go search for it in your settings.

Once you update your phone to the latest software, iOS 14.5, there will be a pop-up when you launch an app that prompts you to give permission or not for specific apps to track you across other apps and the web. Click “Ask app not to Track” each time, and you are set. If you don’t see these pop-ups when you launch an app, double-check you are running the most updated operating system, iOS 14.5, which came out today.

This literally puts people’s privacy into their own hands instead of burying it somewhere in the settings menu.

Read Mozilla’s full guide on how to turn IDFA off.

Who is not happy about this news?

This will be a big change for many marketers and companies who rely on the information IDFA provides them. Facebook has been vocally upset about this change. After Apple originally announced this change was coming in 2020, Facebook took out a one-page ad in The New York Times claiming this change would adversely affect small businesses. While Apple did not respond directly, they did launch new App Store Privacy labels for all apps around the same time. Notably, the privacy label for Facebook’s iOS app listing all the data that can be used to track you across apps and websites of other companies is many screens long.

While Facebook has been the loudest, this will impact many marketers. Apple owns about 27% of the mobile ad market, a $300 billion business, according to Digiday. Marketers have relied on this information, so they will need to come up with new monetization efforts and new acquisition strategies.

What now?

This is a win for privacy and for a human-first online experience where people get to consent to how much of their information is being tracked. Once you update to the latest software and click “ask app not to track” for your apps, you can rest easy that you took back control over one more part of your online experience.