Apple is allowing app developers to collect data for targeted advertising from Apple device users, in an unacknowledged shift that lets advertisers follow a much looser interpretation of its App Tracking Transparency so-called “privacy” framework.
In May Apple communicated its privacy changes to the wider public, launching an advert that featured a harassed man whose daily activities were closely monitored by an ever-growing group of strangers. When his iPhone prompted him to “Ask App Not to Track”, he clicked it and they vanished. Apple’s message to potential customers was clear — if you choose an iPhone, you are choosing privacy.
But seven months later, companies including Snap and Facebook have been allowed to keep sharing user-level signals from iPhones, as long as that data is anonymised and aggregated rather than tied to specific user profiles.
For instance Snap has told investors that it plans to share data from its 306m users — including those who ask Snap “not to track” — so advertisers can gain “a more complete, real-time view” on how ad campaigns are working. Any personally identifiable data will first be obfuscated and aggregated.
Cory Munchbach, chief operating officer at customer data platform BlueConic, said Apple had to stand back from a strict reading of its rules because the disruption to the mobile ads ecosystem would be too great. “Apple can’t put themselves in a situation where they are basically gutting their top-performing apps from a user-consumption perspective,” she said. “That would ultimately hurt iOS.”
Lockdown Privacy, an app that blocks ad trackers, has called Apple’s policy “functionally useless in stopping third-party tracking”. It performed a variety of tests on top apps and observed that personal data and device information is still “being sent to trackers in almost all cases”.
Companies will pledge that they only look at user-level data once it has been anonymised, but without access to the data or algorithms working behind the scenes, users won’t really know if their data privacy has been preserved, said Munchbach. “If historical precedent in adtech holds, those black boxes hide a lot of sins,” she said.
MacDailyNews Take: In a nutshell, it’s likely that what we have here is PINO (Privacy In Name Only).
Apple’s public-facing “User Privacy and Data Use” requirements are here.
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