Apple's privacy chief regretted creating its infamous ad-tracking tool after developers started using it in ways the tech giant didn't intend, report says

Apple's privacy chief regretted creating its infamous ad-tracking tool after developers started using it in ways the tech giant didn't intend, report says
Dado Ruvic/Illustration/File Photo/Reuters
  • Apple's privacy chief regretted building the tech giant's IDFA tracking tool, per The Information.
  • Erik Neuenschwander and his team created the identifiers to track users across devices.

Apple's head of privacy regretted creating the company's tool that lets them track users and target them with ads, sources told The Information in a new report.

Erik Neuenschwander and his team created IDFA, which stands for the identifier for advertisers, after he become chief of Apple's product security team in 2011, per the report. He has been with the company since 2007, according to his LinkedIn profile.

Neuenschwander's group designed the software-based IDFA to replace hardware-based identification codes, since the latter couldn't allow the tracking of users across devices. However, codes baked into the operating system could. The team also built a feature that let people switch off the tracking identifier, but the majority of users did not use it.

These identifiers have since become the norm in the advertising industry, allowing third parties access to user data to target them with ads. Google eventually created a similar tool, for example.

And as The Information notes, the current standards weren't what Neuenschwander and his team originally intended.


Developers began finding loopholes in the identifier's rules, such as continuing to track users even if they had turned off IDFA. Neuenschwander's team added new guardrails in 2014 and 2016 to make it harder for developers to circumvent users' tracking wishes, according to The Information, but developers found ways around those, too.

It was after Neuenschwander and his team rolled out new rules in 2016 that he started telling colleagues he regretted building IDFA, people who have worked with him told The Information. Software identifiers becoming the industry standard especially began bothering him, per the report.

Neuenschwander did not immediately respond to Insider's requests for comment.

Apple told Insider that the company believes "privacy is a fundamental human right, which is why we design every product and feature from the ground up with privacy in mind. Our teams work collaboratively across Apple, putting the same effort into privacy innovation as we put into all of our product designs, and the result is greater choice and superior products for our customers. App Tracking Transparency is an example of how this purposeful approach has delivered increasingly granular control for users."

Apple has fielded criticism over antitrust issues as well as its approach to user privacy in recent years. The company rolled out a major change in its tracking practices in April 2021, when it started allowing iPhone users to choose which apps tracked their activity.


Scores of users began actually using the function, which crushed advertisers, as Insider previously reported.

Dubbed the App Tracking Transparency change, it made it more expensive for companies to reach new customers on apps like YouTube and Snapchat.

The move especially angered Facebook — now Meta — whose CFO said on an earnings call in February that the change cost the company "on the order of $10 billion."

You can read the full report on The Information here.