Apple’s App Tracking and Transparency Update Makes Data Tracking an Opt-In Experience-news

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Little more than a month after Apple released its App Tracking and Transparency “data nutrition label” across its platforms, the tech giant today said it will soon roll out a feature that makes data tracking an opt-in feature instead of opt-out.

App developers will have to get explicit permission from users, which can be revoked at any time, before tracking their data across apps or websites owned by other companies.

Here’s how it works. When you download an app, you’ll see a notification that states “Allow ‘App’ to track your activity across other companies’ apps and websites,” with two options: “Ask App not to Track” and “Allow.” Developers can enter a brief statement explaining why the app needs to track your activity. If you select “Ask App not to Track,” it will not have access to the unique IDFA number used by advertisers and data collection advertisers.

The options are a little confusing since it seems you’re simply requesting the app manufacturer to refrain from collecting data, but an Apple representative told PCMag the App Tracking and Transparency update restricts access to a user’s IDFA, but developers could still theoretically use other unique identifiers, such as phone number or email address, to track users. That said, Apple prohibits developers from using other identifiers to track users who’ve asked not to be tracked. Developers caught inappropriately collecting data are required to immediately update their practices or risk being removed from the App Store.

For those who are worried these changes may make it impossible to use their favorite apps without consenting to data tracking, Apple already has a policy in place that prohibits developers from incentivizing users who allow data tracking or blocking those who wish to keep their data private.

This feature was supposed to roll out in iOS 14, but in August, Facebook argued that the privacy change would cripple its ability to serve targeted ads to iPhone and iPad users and threatened not to deploy its Audience Network on iOS 14. Apple then said it would delay the rollout until early 2021, “to give developers time to make necessary changes.” Apple said at the time that the backend services to support the app-tracking permission requirement would still arrive in iOS 14, but implementation would be voluntary for third-party apps until 2021.

That did not satisfy Facebook, which took out full-page newspaper ads in December to rail against Apple’s planned privacy changes. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg also had a few choice words for Apple during Facebook‘s Wednesday earnings call.

Data collection is a $227 billion-a-year industry that continues to grow. Data brokers use IDFA and other unique identifiers to create complex user profiles that can consist of over 5,000 unique data points. These are constantly updated, not just when you’re online, but when you travel, make purchases using most credit and debit cards, or even when you window shop at brick-and-mortar retailers.

Apple’s announcement comes on World Privacy Day, and just hours before Apple CEO Tim Cook is scheduled to speak at the Computers, Privacy and Data Protection conference in Brussels. 

To help its customers better understand some of the basics of data collection, Apple updated its Privacy page and included a new report called A Day in the Life of Your DataA Day in the Life of Your Data, which explains some most common ways personal data is collected throughout the day.

Apple’s App Tracking and Transparency feature will ship in its next beta and stable updates.

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