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Apple: “We’re not against digital advertising”

Apple is getting ready to publicly launch the new App Tracking Transparency feature in iOS 14.5 that’ll let its customers consent to being tracked across other apps and websites. The advertising industry has been bracing for these changes for months and now Apple’s chief executive Tim Cook is on the record saying his company is not against digital advertising.


STORY HIGHLIGHTS:

  • iOS 14.5 will require your consent to being tracked.
  • You can opt-out of tracking in Settings.
  • The same feature is found in iPadOS 14.5 and tvOS 14.5.
  • Cook called the current situation untenable.

Raise hands who want to be tracked

Cook made this comment in an interview with the Canadian newspaper the Toronto Star, calling the current situation “urgent” and saying his company isn’t against digital advertising.

We’re not against digital advertising. I think digital advertising is going to thrive in any situation, because more and more time is spent online, less and less is spent on linear TV. And digital advertising will do well in any situation. The question is, do we allow the building of this detailed profile to exist without your consent?

The upcoming tracking changes in iOS 14.5, iPadOS 14.5 and tvOS 14.5 are about letting customers decide whether they want to be tracked on a per-app basis.

It’s about giving the user the option to be tracked or not. It seems so basic, but it’s been somewhat controversial. We feel so much that it’s our responsibility to help our users be able to make this decision. We’re not going to make the decision for them. Because it’s not our decision either. It should be each of ours’ as to what happens with our data. Who has it and how they use it.

On major companies including Procter & Gamble trying to find ways to get around it:

The only reason why you would push back is if you believe you’ll get less data. The only reason you would get less data is because people are consciously deciding not to do it and were not being asked before.

The chief executive of Apple went on to liken today’s vast tracking networks and the complex surveillance apparatus that tracks our every online move to peeping toms.

When I was growing up, people worried about peeping toms, you know, people looking in the window and seeing what’s in your home. I’m not sure that happens very much anymore, but now you have this sort of thing happening on the web—somebody looking over your shoulder, seeing what you’re searching, seeing who you’re talking to, seeing what ‘like’ buttons you’re hitting and so forth, and then building a detailed profile of that.

Apple has been adding new privacy features with each major iOS update. The upcoming iOS 14.5, iPadOS !4.5 and tvOS 14.5 software updates are no exception to that.

App Tracking Transparency in iOS 14.5

The update will require all apps that use the IDFA identifier, which is a random device identifier assigned by Apple to a user’s device, to seek user permission before tracking them across other apps and websites. Because IDFA is unique to each device unit, the identifier makes it easy to build complex user profiles over time for invasive advertising and ad targeting.

“Unless you receive permission from the user to enable tracking, the device’s advertising identifier value will be all zeros and you may not track them,” the company cautions.

Under the new rules, any other form of tracking—including by name or email address—must be transparently declared within the privacy “nutrition labels” for an app’s product page on the App Store. Also, tracking by device fingerprinting is strictly prohibited. Regardless of the tracking method used, however, the new rules only allow tracking with user permission.

Apple is already rejecting apps that don’t adhere to the new tracking rules. Moreover, the company provides two new APIs for developers to make the transition easier. The first, called Private Click Measurement, allows ad networks to measure the effectiveness of advertisement clicks within iPhone and iPad apps that navigate to a website.

The second is the new SKAdNetwork API for measuring the overall effectiveness of ad campaigns without getting access to information that could be traced back to end-users. Advertisers who use the SKADNetwork API have a sectioned way of determining how many times an app was installed after ads for it were seen, without breaking Apple’s rules.

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