With the upcoming release of Apple’s new Operating System and (another) Apple privacy controversy in the news this week, we thought it was a good time to bring this article back.
This spring’s iOS updated promised increase security and user control for inter-app tracking and cookies. However, the changes are taking a lot longer to reach users then first promised. It seems like all the changes they announced were more for show than actually giving users more control over their personal data.
And…. on the topic of personal data: make sure you do the emergency update on your devices today! The update fixes a bug that makes the over 1.65 billion Apple devices worldwide vulnerable to Pegasus Spyware.
Pegasus spyware is particularly dangerous because unlike most spyware and malware, the user doesn’t need to click a link or open a suspicious email for it to be installed. The spyware doesn’t give the device’s user any indication that it was activated. This “zero click remote exploit” spyware was developed by Israeli cybersecurity firm NSO. The Pegasus spyware can turn a device’s microphone or camera on, and record even encrypted calls, texts, messages, and emails.
NSO has been subject to controversy in the past for it’s client list. They say that they only sell their spyware to government and organizations that meet strict human rights standards and who will use the spyware to track terrorists and criminals. However, the Pegasus spyware has been linked many times over the past couple years to organizations that do not meet those criteria.
It is interesting to see if this latest privacy controversy will impact the upcoming ios update or change Apple’s approach to large scale privacy initiatives in the future.
The (Un)Official Guide to The Apple Privacy Update
April 28th, 2021
The Apple privacy update rolling out this week that finally does what they’ve been threatening to do for a lonnnggggg time. Control over the ADFA (Apple’s Device Identifier for Advertisers) and other app tracking tools are being given directly to the users. What Apple decides to do when it comes to data privacy and marketing tools greatly impacts the entire industry.
Why? For one thing, 45.2% of smartphones users in the United States have an iPhone. Another reason is that they have marketed themselves as the company that is going to stand up for its user’s privacy and control, even if that means going against Facebook. Or the Government.
The big question is though… what does it mean for you? As a user and as an advertiser?
What does the privacy update actually do?
With the new update scheduled to go out this week, Apple is introducing a feature called “App Tracking Transparency.” What does it do? Well… it makes advertiser tracking between apps more transparent to users. Apple has made the ability to see (and change) what apps are tracking what for years. The difference now is that instead it being buried deep in settings, a pop-up window will show up on every app that tracks something or collects any data. This pop up (like the one for sharing location) will allow users to control what personal data each app has access to as well what other apps it can connect to.
What information are apps collecting/what are they collecting? Apps (and websites) can collect a surprising amount of information that users haven’t directly given them. Some apps track your physical location. They can use this information to serve you targeted ads based on where you are in the physical world. Knowing your physical location can also give you better recommendations on things “near you,” whether that be pizza for lunch or the weather forecast.
Apps also can have tracking pixels built in. These pixels can track your movement form one app or website to another. This is how you can get an ad for something you just looked at on Amazon. Amazon has a tracking pixel built into their website, they in turn take the information the pixel has collected about visitors to target them on other websites and apps.
What choice do users have now?
In the popup window, users will now be given the choice: “Allow” and “Ask app not to track.” In the past Apple has let you decide which specific elements you would allow, like only location sharing or only ADFA tracking. However, this feature appears to be all or nothing. If you “Allow” then you are giving complete access.
What happens when you say no to tracking? Apple stops giving the app access to your ADFA, stopping it from learning about you from other apps. It also tells apps that you really would rather they didn’t track or share your information in any other ways.
Why should you allow tracking?
Personalized ads are one part of the puzzle when it comes to be tracked online. As we’ve talked about in the past, personalized ads are very effective. Younger generation that have grown up online don’t tolerate non-personalized ads very well. We are constantly inundated with content and advertising, so it is easy to completely zone out advertising (in any form) that is something you are not directly interested in.
Also, many consumers now have in innate understanding of how their personal data is used to create targeted ads. Being targeted (or retargeted) based on their interests and past activities are expected. Recently surveyed consumers between the ages of 18-34, 58% said that a personalized ad helped them make a purchase decision. 42% also said that they had clicked on a sponsored ad in the last 6 months!
For a lot of us, the privacy concerns pale in comparison to function and usability of an app. A TapResearch poll conducted in August 2020 shows that 23% of iOS users are likely to opt in to sharing data with apps that request it. Another 21% of consumers are neutral on the subject, suggesting they will not opt out. Recent eMarketer research shows that 75% of consumers are willing to share their location if it enables a mobile service or saves them money. Which highlights how many users feel about personalized advertising: getting a coupon or an ad for something you were probably going to buy anyway is not a bad thing.
The Facebook Controversy
Facebook has been by far the most outspoken opponent of AppTrackingTransparency, going so far as to take-out full-page ads in newspapers and other print publications. Facebook says that AppTrackingTransparency will hurt small businesses’ ability to advertise to those in their community. And that Apple shouldn’t be able to make “unilateral decisions without consulting the industry about a policy that will have far-reaching harm on businesses of all sizes.”
Apple shouldn’t make “unilateral decisions without consulting the industry about a policy that will have far-reaching harm on businesses of all sizes.”Facebook
Time will tell if these changes pull advertisers more into Facebook marketing, but one thing is for sure, they have already impacted Facebooks. We were sent this by Facebook this week: “Apple released changes with iOS 14 that impacts how we receive and process events from tools like the Facebook SDK and the Facebook pixel. See updates on how these changes affect your ad account and see tasks that can help you reach your audience.” So far, the only thing we’ve seen impacted on Facebook is size audiences available. That is expected to level out though, in coming months as people re-opt-in to app tracking.
What are advertisers doing about the privacy update?
Many apps already have another type of pixel technology built into them called “Fingerprinting.” Fingerprinting has been developed recently to combat this end of cookie era. Fingerprinting works by collecting seemingly unimportant data from your device such as screen resolution, phone model, and current operating system, and combining it into a way of recognizing your unique device. Much like actual finger printing, fingerprints match to fingerprint, not a name, address, phone number etc. This allows advertisers to target you with ads without knowing who you actually are, thus getting around any data privacy issues.
There are many tools becoming available that do similar things. Tools like Household Level Identifiers that don’t target specific people. Apple has given advertisers time to come up with solutions, so we will probably see more options in the coming months and years.
So, what do you think? Do the advantages of AppTracking outweigh the privacy costs?