A new prompt in Apple’s mobile and TV software will soon enlighten you about a hidden sideline of many apps – seeing what you do in other apps.
When iOS 14.5, iPadOS 14.5 and tvOS 14.5 ship sometime this spring, they will require apps that track your activity across your iPhone, iPad or Apple TV to request permission first. You won’t have to hope app developers oblige your request: Since the simple way to do such tracking is via Apple’s Identifier for Advertising (“IDFA”) feature, Apple will be able to spot violations.
Facebook has been battling this requirement since last summer, decrying it as harmful to small businesses advertising on its platform. But other boldface names in tech have not been as resolute against Apple’s move.
Google announced Jan. 27 that it would stop collecting this data in its own apps, and on March 4 Microsoft’s LinkedIn said it would cease IDFA tracking.
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Twitter isn’t ready to renounce IDFA – a blog post said it will work to “get the design, timing, and experience of the consent prompts right” – but also doesn’t seem to mind Apple’s changes. Speaking at a Morgan Stanley conference, chief financial officer Ned Segal said he thought they would raise Twitter’s chances against competitors that “were much better than Twitter historically at leveraging all of the data that was available to them.”
Snapchat, too, will retain IDFA tracking. But CEO Evan Spiegel told CNBC that he saw Apple’s decision as “a good thing overall for consumers, even if it’s a little disruptive for advertisers in the near term.”
Smaller developers of free apps who make money from targeted ads inserted in their apps by ad networks – and developers who place ads for their titles in other apps – may feel more pain.
“This makes it much less efficient to reach a really relevant audience,” said Eric Seufert, a mobile-marketing consultant. “Their costs go up and their revenue goes down.”
Seufert said he’s seeing opt-in rates ranging from just 10 to 15% among users – and that he would have no problem tapping the “Allow” button. “The data is fairly benign,” he said, adding, “I don’t like random ads.”
Developers can explain why you should accept their request in that dialog. Facebook, for example, has shown a prompt advising users that it will “provide you with a better ads experience,” and a Sling TV dialog touted “relevant ads.”
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One privacy advocate pronounced himself unimpressed.
“I haven’t seen anything super interesting in terms of developers making a reasonable case for users to allow this tracking,” emailed Casey Oppenheim, CEO of Disconnect, a San Francisco developer of privacy tools. He called the Facebook prompt “laughable.”
Apple’s move does not stop companies from tracking what you do in their own apps. Yelp, for example, should have plenty of relevant information from people’s repeated searches for new takeout options as we pass a year of no dining in restaurants.
To see if an app will present this dialog, check its listing in the App Store. Recently-updated apps must show an Apple-specified privacy label, and if that includes a card titled “Data Used to Track You,” the developers will soon need to ask your permission.
Google’s Android operating system does not provide this level of transparency or control over app tracking, but Suefert said he expected Google would have to provide some answer to it. “They’re going to have to do something that matches this, at least cosmetically.”
The views and opinions expressed in this column are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect those of USA TODAY.