Apple iOS 14.5 could be landing anytime now. More than any new goodies that the latest iOS update may bring to your Apple iPhone, it is the new privacy feature called the App Tracking Transparency feature which you should be looking out for. This is designed to put an end to apps on your iPhone tracking your data and usage habits across other websites and apps and then tailoring their own offerings and advertisements accordingly. The simple idea is to prevent this tracking from happening without your consent. Any app on your phone that wishes to track usage across other apps and websites, will now have to explicitly ask for your permission. You can choose to allow that or not. It is the melding together of consent and choice, something that was missing thus far, allowing social media platforms such as Facebook, to make a mockery of privacy.
The way the App Tracking Transparency feature will work is that when you open an app on your iPhone, for the first time or after an update, you will be asked, “Allow XYZ to track your activity across other companies’ apps and websites?” The two options you will have at this stage would be “Ask App not to Track” or “Allow”. The change was expected to be rolled out earlier, but Apple delayed it till iOS 14.5 for a wider release to allow app developers more time to prepare. The App Tracking Transparency feature will be part of the Privacy menu in the Settings app. An iPhone user will now be able to choose whether they want to allow or deny an app from tracking their browsing and app usage trends. The idea is simple—disclosure and choice. You must notice two things here. First, Apple is not ending data tracking and secondly, Apple is not putting an end to personalized advertisements. Simply put, Apple is ending the free run that apps and web platforms have had till now with tracking your usage habits without even a beg your pardon and will now make them ask you for explicit permission, before they can track you.
Facebook, over the past few months, has been very vocal in its criticism of Apple’s App Tracking Transparency feature. No surprises there. The lack of disclosure and choice is what Facebook has bet heavily on over time, tracking what you browse for, shop for and use apps for, on your phone, tablet, PC and pretty much any computing device in your workflow. How else do you think you’d get those uncannily well-targeted ads just at the right time on your Facebook or Instagram feed? The new privacy measures will apply to all apps on your iPhone and on the Apple App Store. “We believe users should have the choice over the data that is being collected about them and how it’s used. Facebook can continue to track users across apps and websites as before, App Tracking Transparency in iOS 14 will just require that they ask for your permission first,” Apple CEO Tim Cook has already said in a tweet.
What probably worries Facebook is that once Apple does it, Google may also be next to implement such an explicit approval requirement for data tracking, on Android, Google Chrome and more apps and platforms. And that could spell big trouble for Facebook’s business model. And there is that admission, even though it’ll never be worded as such, that when given a choice, most users may not allow apps such as Facebook to track them across the length and breadth of the world wide web. Small businesses can still use the data from users who allow tracking. Small businesses can still use the data Facebook has on users (age, gender, interests, location etc.) and serve their advertisements. And for those who are already customers, small businesses can reach out to them directly anyway. It is Facebook that stands to lose the most, in the middle of all this. The Apple iOS 14.5 arrives anytime now, and we could be embracing a new era of online advertising.