This week Apple released iOS and iPadOS 14.5, which includes the new App Tracking Transparency — a feature upending the entire data-sharing paradigm. Apple products now explicitly ask their users to decide whether they wish to share personal information with companies for advertising purposes.
“As someone who’s pretty conscious of my privacy and data harvesting I think this is a great change,” said USC student and long-time iPhone user Matt Slade, who stays up to date with tech news. “It seems like the update gives people a chance to consider if they really want their information being shared.”
The move pushes digital consent to the forefront in a time when the personal, professional and social all coexist in the palm of your hand.
Now, many apps designed to mine personal data will include a pop-up that allows users to decide for themselves whether to disclose their information. Users can select between “Ask App Not to Track” or “Allow” when questioned, “Allow [App name] to track your activity across other companies’ apps and websites?”
When users choose “Ask App Not to Track,” they are signalling their information is their own, not someone else’s. It isn’t a foolproof way of emitting radio-silence, as developers have other ways to access personal data, but it’s a step toward taking ownership over your own digital privacy.
This new pop-up feature has spurred controversy, jarring many in the big-tech community who rely on third-party advertisers. Facebook, in particular, has criticized Apple’s iOS privacy changes under the guise of “standing up for small businesses everywhere,” as one 2020 full-page Facebook ad read in The New York Times.
Facebook accused Apple of blocking companies big and small from running effective advertisements, calling the new update a “false tradeoff” between personalized ads and privacy.
Facebook could be primed to suffer far worse than small businesses based on the company’s overwhelming scale and market share. Apple has since made statements slamming Facebook’s ad-targeting practices, which require vast amounts of personal data for optimal effectiveness.
“In the past, Apple did allow for some control, however, these features were usually hidden deep in convoluted app settings,” said New Mexico-based electrical engineer Tyler Kelehan, who follows Apple updates closely. “So this is a long overdue step towards protecting user privacy.”
For users to prevent companies from tracking and collecting their data, advertisements could become less targeted because it will be more difficult for companies to access search history, shopping habits or activities in other apps.
Data mining and tracking happens constantly. Browsing for products on a shopping app, for example, often leads to advertisements for the same type of product to pop up in your social media feed. While this might not bother everyone, the difference now is that users are informed when this process occurs, and the ability to opt-out is more streamlined.
This software update was scheduled for Fall 2020, but Apple pushed back the release date to give developers more time to prepare for the new privacy policies.
“We are committed to ensuring users can choose whether or not they allow an app to track them. To give developers time to make necessary changes, apps will be required to obtain permission to track users starting early next year,” Apple said in its September 2020 statement.
“This may be indicative of a wider shift in public opinion about allowing private companies like Facebook and Google to collect so much of our personal data,” said Kelehan.
The iOS and iPadOS 14.5 update also features a timely update which lets you unlock your phone even with a mask on, as well as more emoji and additional Siri voices.
Apple users can install the update now.