The Apple iOS 14.5 update is now rolling out for the Apple iPhone and the iPadOS 14.5 is also now available for the Apple iPad. More than any new features available for your Apple iPhone, including allowing unlocking your iPhone with the Apple Watch when wearing a mask, it is the new privacy feature called the App Tracking Transparency feature which matters the most. This is designed to put an end to apps on your iPhone tracking your usage habits across other websites and apps and then serving you relevant advertisements. The idea is to prevent tracking without your consent. Any app that wishes to track you across other apps and websites, will have to explicitly ask for your permission. You can choose to allow or not. It is the melding of consent and choice, something that was missing till now, allowing apps to make a mockery of privacy.
The way the App Tracking Transparency feature works 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 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. This will apply to all apps installed on your iPhone, if they need to track your usage across other apps and websites. Apple has very clearly defined app tracking includes but isn’t restricted to showing targeted advertisements app based on user data collected from apps and websites owned by other companies, s haring device location data or email lists with a data broker as well as sharing a list of emails, advertising IDs, or other IDs with a third-party advertising network that uses that information to retarget those users in other developers’ apps or to find similar users.
In the documentation shared with developers over time, Apple makes it clear that, “To request permission to track the user and access the device’s advertising identifier, use the AppTrackingTransparency framework. You must also include a purpose string in the system prompt that explains why you’d like to track the user. 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”. You must notice two things here. First, Apple is not ending data tracking and secondly, Apple is not putting an end to personalized advertisements. Secondly, 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. The feature was expected to be rolled out earlier, but Apple had delayed it till this iOS 14.5 release, for a wider release to allow app developers more time to prepare. “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 had said in a tweet, late last year.
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 what you 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.