On April 25th, Apple released the latest version of their mobile operating system, iOS 14.5. This update includes several fresh features, such as new voice options for Siriand the ability to use Face ID with a mask. But there is one aspect of iOS 14.5that has Apple on bad terms with Facebook and Google – and it’s all to do with your apps.
App Tracking Transparency
Apple’s latest move is not a safeguarding concern, but rather a safeguarding mechanism. They are implementing App Tracking Transparency (ATT), a feature that will allow users to see which of their apps want to track them. This new tool is a big win for Apple in the war against misinformation and user privacy.
How Does ATT Work?
Have you ever Googled something you’re thinking about purchasing? Have you ever liked or followed a brand on Facebook? Many of the apps we use and websites we visit every day utilise tracking and the data collected from it to inform targeted advertising. User information (location, phone number, other app usage, and a unique number that identifies your iPhone) is harvested by advertisers into something called an IDFA (Identifier for Advertisers). This is why you suddenly see adverts on every app for the item you might purchase or the brand you followed on Facebook. These targeted ads are a key source of revenue for big companies like Google and Facebook, even if it is a concern for many privacy advocates.
ATT will make targeted advertising more difficult for companies. Apps will now have to ask users for permission to track them, with most users being expected to refuse. iOS 14.5 will also offer a setting to stop all app tracking (though the setting does note that ‘some apps may still track you’).
Why Are Apple Introducing This?
Apple cites this controversial move as part of their commitment to the human right to privacy. Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO, has previously criticised the tracking approach, saying those seeking to profit from mining personal data were causing real damage to society as well as encouraging the rise of misinformation. He claims this would eventually mean, “You are no longer the customer. You’re the product.”
Apple cites this controversial move as part of its commitment to the right to privacy.
What is the Backlash?
This type of technology targets big corporate companies, such as Facebook, Instagram, and Google, as it directly challenges how they treat user data. Facebook in particular has gone on the defensive. They have reportedly been building an anti–trust lawsuit against Apple since the release of iOS 14 in January 2021, claiming Apple is abusing “its power in the smartphone market by forcing app developers to abide by App Store rules that Apple’s own apps don’t have to follow.” Facebook insists technology like ATT will hurt small businesses and has said they will combat any alleged deception by showing users an information page that encourages them to allow app tracking. They have also claimed Apple is not doing this to protect privacy, but to increase their own profits.
Apple has stated it is prepared to remove apps that don’t comply with ATT policy.
What Can I Do?
It is important to be aware of how apps and developers are processing your personal details and those of the children and young people in your care. Changes like ATT help give you as a user more transparency and control over how the apps you use track you for target advertising.
We would always recommend the use of any technology that helps protect your data.