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AppTrackingTransparency draws the ire of German regulators

The news: Germany’s competition watchdog recently announced a probe into Apple’s controversial AppTrackingTransparency (ATT) policy, marking one of the first major legal inquiries into the privacy change.

A recap: Rolled out last year, ATT makes apps ask users to opt-in or out of tracking and has fundamentally changed mobile advertising, severely affecting revenues for other Big Tech giants.

  • Opt-in rates have not been as low as initially expected—approximately 46% across categories compared with a possible low of 2%—but even that hurts substantially.
  • Meta has said it expects to lose $10 billion in ad revenue thanks to ATT, and recently filed a request for comment with the FTC criticizing the policy. Snapchat complained about ATT in October after a difficult earnings report, and it still isn’t doing too well.
  • Meanwhile, Apple’s own advertising platforms have soared. Its search ad revenues rose a whopping 237% to $3.7 billion last year, and Apple is looking for other ways to introduce advertising to its existing services.

What this means: The complaints from rival tech companies have grown louder, and antitrust bodies are starting to turn a wary eye to Apple’s ad policies.

  • Germany’s probe could be followed by more investigations into ATT that could ultimately result in a change to the policy.
  • Still, a total reversal of ATT probably isn’t in the cards. ATT falls in line with American and European regulators’ recent fervor for data privacy regulations and penalties, so it's unlikely to be fully rolled back.
  • Any changes to ATT that do get proposed will likely prompt intense resistance from Apple, which has made the privacy changes that launched with iOS 14 a key part of its brand image.

The big takeaway: ATT isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Mounting legal pressure will lead to years-long investigations and court battles that will eventually produce an ATT with some degree of compromise that either holds Apple accountable to its own third-party rules, or gives back to platforms at least a sliver of their old tracking capabilities.