This week, Apple released a new white paper detailing how apps typically track users and interact with their data, outlines the company’s privacy philosophy, and offers several details and clarifications about the upcoming change to app tracking transparency, which will require (among other things) ) app developers to get a user’s permission to participate in the common practice of creating an identifier (called IDFA) to track that user and their activities between multiple apps.
The paper states that the change will take full effect with the release of an update to iOS and other Apple operating systems in the “early spring” (Apple has previously said this would happen in iOS 14.5, which is now in a late period). beta is in testing), but the company has reportedly already started enforcing some aspects of the new policy with new app submissions, suggesting the full transition is very near. A recent survey found that only about 38.5 percent of users plan to sign up for tracking.
Most of the article is devoted to explaining exactly how apps track users to begin with, using a hypothetical example of a father and daughter traveling to the playground with their personal mobile technology and apps in tow. There are no new disclosures in this section for people already familiar with how these systems work, but the information is accurate and most people don’t actually know that much about how their data is tracked and used, so it may be useful to some.
Apple also uses a section in the paper to describe its app privacy labels, which are a bit like food nutrition labels, but instead of describing the nutrients in a meal, they describe the ways an app tracks you or accesses your data. . It’s worth noting, however, that these app privacy labels are largely self-reported, and independent observers have found many examples of apps that have inaccurate or incomplete information in these labels.
Trust and Antitrust
While the paper is partly aimed at users who want to learn more about iOS privacy features and how personal data is handled by mobile apps in general, it also repeatedly attempts to argue that the upcoming change to app tracking transparency won’t negatively impact will affect most ad-supported businesses in a serious way. “The introduction of previous features, such as Safari Intelligent Tracking Prevention, have shown that advertising can continue to be successful while improving user privacy protections,” the authors said.
Some companies, such as Facebook, have explored the idea of filing an antitrust suit against Apple, arguing that Apple allows third-party apps to follow rules that the smartphone maker’s apps don’t have to follow. But this article states that Apple’s own apps don’t provide an opt-in prompt for tracking because they don’t track third-party apps for advertising purposes to begin with.
Most of the meaty clarifications are in the FAQ (FAQ) section of the paper. For example, Apple writes that “app developers cannot require that you allow tracking to use the app’s full capabilities,” meaning users will not receive reduced functionality in apps if they opt out of tracking. Here’s a critical note of Apple’s impending change: The policy prevents tracking multiple third-party apps if a user opts out, but both Apple and any other company can still track users across multiple apps if all of the apps in question are managed. by the same company. The same thing that Apple gives a pass can also apply to, say, Google that follows you through Gmail, Google News, Docs, and so on. But as soon as Google wants to use a technique that can also see what you are doing in, for example, the apps of Apple or Facebook, then the opt-in is required.
Apple offers a separate switch labeled “Personalized Ads” — completely different from the IDFA-related opt-in prompt — that allows users to decide whether they want to be tracked in Apple’s top-of-the-line apps.
And regarding the recent spate of App Store submissions rejections, Apple clarifies that a developer “is also obligated to respect your choice beyond ad identification.” This means that once a user has opted out of IDFA tracking, the developer is also not allowed to track the user through any other method that generates a similar result, such as device fingerprinting. Device fingerprints were apparently the cause of the wave of rejections we reported last week. “If we discover that a developer is following users who request to be unfollowed, we will require that they update their practices to respect your choice or their app could be rejected from the App Store,” the paper said.
The FAQ also addresses criticisms of the effectiveness of the App Store’s privacy labels, albeit not very effectively. It confirms that the data was self-reported, saying, “If we discover that a developer may have provided incorrect information, we will work with them to ensure the accuracy of the information.”
List image by Samuel Axon