Apple Threatens Devs With App Store Expulsion For Tracking Users Without Permission

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Advertisers and companies like Facebook that thrive on the targeted ads model are a little miffed at Apple right now, because an upcoming privacy policy could hamper their bottom line. Facebook in particular claims one of its targeted ad models could see up to a 50 percent hit in revenue when the new policy goes into effect. Cue the tiny violin.

Companies have time to adjust, though not a lot time. Beginning sometime in 2021, Apple will start booting apps from the App Store that track users without receiving permission to do so. And not by way of burying permission in the fine print, presumably. Instead, this move effectively forces many app makers to change their targeted ad strategy.

How so? App makers that dole out targeted advertising typically use what is called a phone's Identifier for Advertisers (IFDA). This is a randomly assigned device identifier, and using it, app makers can track a person's digital tracks and use that information to push out ads that might be of interest. Like if you look up 'Nike self-lacing shoes' on your phone, you might notice Nike ads appearing in your Facebook feed, to give an example.

Apple's upcoming change in policy will force app makers to show a pop-up asking for permission to tap into the IFDA. It basically becomes an opt-in sort of thing, and is one of several moves Apple has been making to bolster privacy on its mobile devices. And as you can imagine, companies are not thrilled about having to do this.

The inevitable outcome here is that more users will take control of their privacy and disallow targeted ads, because it will suddenly become such an easy thing to do (on a per-app basis). If an app maker is caught ignoring the mechanism, they will be running afoul of Apple's App Tracking Transparency (ATT) rules, and their app could be removed from the App Store.

"Some in the ad industry are lobbying against these efforts—claiming that ATT will dramatically hurt ad-supported businesses—but we expect that the industry will adapt as it did when we introduced intelligent tracking prevention, providing effective advertising without invasive tracking," said Craig Federighi, senior vice president of software engineering at Apple.

I suspect he's right, and so I am not shedding a tear for advertisers. This plays into the old saying that if you are not paying for something, you are the product, and that kind of stinks (depending on your perspective).

Meanwhile, some of Apple's other privacy policies are drawing ire by app developers. Specifically, WhatsApp (owned by Facebook) is mad at Apple over its new privacy label requirements, telling Axios they are anti-competitive because Apple's own iMessage service comes preinstalled on iOS devices. The distinction is an important one, because the privacy labels apply to the App Store.

"While providing people with easy to read information is a good start, we believe it’s important people can compare these 'privacy nutrition' labels from apps they download with apps that come pre-installed, like iMessage," WhatsApp says.

In short, Apple may not be making many friends among rival app developers at the moment, but it is increasing privacy on its iOS devices.