There has been a lot of discussion on this topic, especially in the online marketing industry. Some time ago Apple announced the introduction of a new feature in iOS 14 designed to improve privacy protection for users using Apple mobile devices. In the end, the new feature only appeared in iOS 14.5 version and again there are questions about how it will affect the online advertising market.

If you've updated to the latest version, which has been available for 2 days, you may have already noticed new notifications appearing when you open your favourite apps.

These notifications are part of what is known as app tracking transparency. Is this something you need?

What is app tracking transparency

Since 2012, apps developed for iOS have been using an Advertising Device Identifier (IDFA) to track you across different websites and apps. Apps typically collect this ID so they can combine information about you collected by the app with information about you collected elsewhere, such as the web, to better target ads.

Thanks to the function App Tracking Transparency, apps will now need users' consent to access IDFA before tracking can begin, which may include collecting user data to sell to brokers or combining app user data with third-party data that has been collected to target ads.

These new policies, Apple has confirmed, will also affect other in-app processes, including sharing location data with brokers and deploying hidden trackers to conduct ad analytics.

Some advertising industry experts believe that a large number of users will opt out of tracking when the new app tracking transparency feature comes into effect, and they are certainly right. I will be doing this myself even though marketing is close to my heart and I know how important data on user behaviour is. However, I believe that privacy is above all else and we should not end up in a situation where our every move leaves a trace and we are transformed from consumers into products on the shelf, which is basically what is already happening.

The iOS 14.5 software update is being touted as a big win for privacy and is expected to give iPhone users a much greater awareness of how they are or may be tracked on their devices.

If any iOS app developer tries to circumvent these protections and tracks users without their permission their app will be banned from the AppStore.

Should I accept to be tracked?

Why would you want an app to track you? The main benefit of allowing tracking is to tailor the ads and content you see in apps and on websites.

If an app can track your activity, it can create a better picture of your interests by doing so. Instead of presenting you with generic ads or suggested content, the company can tailor what it shows you to what it thinks you might want to see.

So it has some advantages, but who can guarantee that the giants are not going as far as tracking us for more than just advertising and content?

As far as I'm concerned, I'm not a fan of ubiquitous surveillance and as you know where I can I even avoid using Google analytics to minimise or eliminate tracking of my readers (Fathom Analytics).

Yes, free services such as Google Analytics can work with tracking, but everyone should absolutely be aware of how their activity is being monitored and decide whether they like it or not.

Should I give up tracking?

If the thought of being tracked at every turn while using your iPad or iPhone terrifies you, then turning off tracking may be the best solution for you.

Apps can learn a surprising amount about who you are as a person by tracking what you do.

If you're worried about online tracking, especially on non-Apple devices where, for the time being, there is still permanent surveillance of your activities, using a VPN can help you keep your data private.

Summary

For the first time, a smartphone operating system manufacturer has disabled ad tracking IDs by default! This is how the event can be summed up in one sentence.

But the move is part of a larger trend that is making privacy-enhancing technologies the choice for users. Over the past half-decade, end-to-end encryption has become the default option on communication services such as WhatsApp and iMessage. Browsers, including Apple's Firefox and Safari, have abandoned third-party cookies - and even Chrome, the world's largest browser, is in the process of doing the same.

Perhaps not surprisingly, privacy and civil liberties groups have praised Apple's plans. Jason Kint, CEO of trade group Digital Content Next, called the changes "the most significant privacy improvement in the history of the Internet."

Apple's privacy changes have, as you might guess, caused quite a bit of controversy among advertisers. Firstly, advertisers and advertising platforms are concerned that they simply cannot predict how many people will consent to being tracked and how many will not. This has caused Apple to slightly delay the launch of their new App Tracking Transparency feature, which was originally scheduled to launch in September 2020 along with iOS 14. They have been criticised by several privacy organisations for this.

No group or company has been more opposed to Apple's changes than Facebook, one of the largest advertising companies in the world. The two companies have clashed repeatedly over online privacy and tracking. This year, the feud has become even more heated. Over the past few months, Facebook has taken out full-page ads in newspapers, claiming the changes will hurt small businesses that rely on Facebook's ability to track people and show them ads based on their interests. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has attacked Apple's plans, saying they are made in Apple's "competitive interest". Facebook was also reportedly preparing an antitrust lawsuit against Apple, which referred to its app tracking policy.

Despite Apple's criticism, Facebook may not suffer too much from these changes. Although it will no longer use Apple's ID in any of its apps, Zuckerberg says it could make even more money. "We may even be in a stronger position if Apple's changes encourage more companies to trade on our platforms, making it harder for them to use their data to find customers who want to use their products outside of our platforms," Zuckerberg told Clubhouse in March.

Whether this sabre-rattling by Facebook will be reflected in reality only time will tell. Personally, I know a huge number of people who are turning away from Facebook, and when I observe my daughters' generation, I don't see any special interest in this medium, which is losing out to others.

Facebook is not the only critic of the iOS changes. Both LinkedIn and Google have announced that they will stop using IDFA in their apps. Meanwhile, Snapchat's creators and many Chinese app developers are looking for ways to get around the changes altogether. Apple has already banned other apps that attempt to track people using various techniques.

Overall, there is still a great deal of uncertainty about the impact that Apple's changes will have. Advertisers expect that the changes will severely limit the number of people they can show personalised ads to.

One study of apps and Apple's prompt for consent, conducted by AppsFlyer, found that 32 per cent of people have allowed apps to track them. Gaming apps had the lowest consent rate, while "utility" apps had the highest. 32% gave consent, meaning 68% did not.

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