Cookie-Tracking Apps Not Being Rejected By Apple
February 27, 2013

Cookie-Tracking Apps Not Being Rejected By Apple

Michael Harper for — Your Universe Online

On Monday, TechCrunch posted a story claiming Apple has begun rejecting apps which use web-based cookies, a move which they believed was a sign that the iPhone maker would begin forcing developers to use their own identifier system. Even as this story was making its rounds it was found that this isn´t necessarily true, turning this story into another ℠Apple story turned non-story.´

According to the story, Apple made this move to force app developers into adopting their own ad tracking methods. However, it was later discovered that Apple hasn´t been rejecting apps based on ad tracking methods, but rather on poor User Interface (UI) choices.

It´s an issue which peels the curtain back and lets everyone see into the sausage factory: There are certain conveniences and core functionalities written into apps which are not possible if the app developer does not have access to some information about your device.

These bits of information are known as “cookies” and are more common on the desktop-version of the web. These cookies on the web can remember specific settings on a web page or other information about a specific user.

On iPhone, these cookies can be used to restore settings and information if an app is deleted and later restored. These cookies are also used to serve up some non-identifiable information about a user to third party advertisers. This information is basic, such as how long a person stays in an app, which version of iOS is being used on which device, and in which general geographical region.

In the beginning, Apple used identifiers known as Unique Device Identifiers, (UDID) has since switched to another brand of IDs once it was discovered that UDIDs were gathering more data than some felt comfortable.

Some developers now use a kind of web-based cookie to track user behavior.

According to Ars Technica, it´s these apps which are being pulled from the app store, not to force the developers to use Apple´s own Identifiers for Advertising (IDFA), but because the process is sloppy and unappealing.

These app developers set up cookies or tokens on the web. When a user taps the app, they´re sent first to a web page momentarily, and then back to the app. When the user is sent to Safari first, the app is talking to the cookies on the web site, reporting all the pertinent details. The cookies on the web page are recorded and the user is then sent back to the app. The entire process takes less than a second to complete, but according to ArsTechnica, this hacky way of using web-based cookies violates Apple´s UI guidelines.

Therefore, Apple rejecting these apps for using cookies isn´t the company´s way of forcing these developers to use IDFA, but forcing them to write prettier apps.

"It's a bad user experience," said an unnamed source speaking to Ars. "For years we've been rejecting apps for [violating UI Guidelines].”

Though they first claimed Apple was rejecting apps in a move to force developers to embrace IDFA, TechCrunch left plenty of room for backpedaling in their article, noting that even their sources suspected that they had been rejected for violating UI guidelines.

It also noted that Apple has been lax in enforcing the use of IDFAs now that UDIDs are no longer accepted.

However, this handful of rejections is not a signal that Apple will begin forcing developers to use this new tracking protocol.