It’s no secret that almost every app users have on their smartphones end up tracking their data in some form or the other. For apps, it’s good business but for users — those concerned about privacy — not so much. Back in June 2020, at its annual developer conference Apple announced iOS 14 and mentioned a feature that had the potential to shift the power dynamic completely for users and apps. That feature — called App Tracking Transparency — is now here.
Call it controversial — which it is — but Apple didn’t back down even after criticism, huge ads (here’s looking at you, Facebook) and the attempt to portray Apple out there to hurt small businesses. The feature, as per Apple, has been designed to give iPhone users the power to control which app they are comfortable tracking their data. Here we decode what the feature is all about and why the furore over it
What is App Tracking Transparency and how does it boost user privacy?
Simply put, the feature gives more control to iPhone users on whether or not they want to be tracked by advertisers online across apps. Privacy, as Apple likes to tell us, is a fundamental human right and it’s the user and not the developer who should decide what data they get or share. The feature will give users the option to share or not share data with any app.
How does App Tracking Transparency work?
The App Tracking Transparency (ATT) feature makes it mandatory for apps to request users to grant them permission in order to track them across other apps and websites.
How App Tracking Transparency helps users?
It helps users in having all the power and control over their data. If a user denies this permission, the app will be forced to stop tracking that user and share his or her data.
In case a user asks an app to not track their data, Apple disables the app from using an Apple device identifier. This identifier is nothing but a combination of letters and numbers assigned to each iPhone that is used to track activities across apps and websites.
Why do app developers — essentially Facebook — have a problem with App Tracking Transparency?
Many apps, including Facebook, use IDFA or better known as Identifiers for Advertisers. As the name suggests, it’s a tool to track you and your phone across apps, services and websites. IDFA uses random identifiers to deliver customised advertising. Remember how you searched for an inane item on the internet on your phone? And five minutes later, you are suddenly inundated with ads for those items. That’s exactly what IDFA does.
Facebook and many others rely on this data as it is a part of their business model and comes as no surprise why they are against. To be fair to Facebook, it’s biggest argument is that IDFA helps it know how ad campaigns have done. Many small developers rely on these ads as a source of income and the ATT feature hurts them. A lot of iPhone users may not choose to allow apps to track them and this hurts app developers and hence their problem with it.
Why have some apps been on board with this feature?
Unlike Facebook, Snapchat has in the past expressed their support to Apple for its App Tracking Transparency feature. Snap CEO Evan Spiegel said that even though it may cause a little disruption for advertisers in the short term, it “generally views this as a good thing overall for consumers.”
What happens to apps who don’t accept Apple’s new feature?
Apple has made its stance clear in the past about the apps that fail to comply with the new privacy rules. Apple’s senior vice president of software engineering Craig Federighi has said that apps face a risk of being removed from the App Store, which is the only way to install software on an iPhone.
Why has Apple not budged from its stance?
One word: privacy. Facebook and Apple have been openly criticising each other on their stand on this topic. At one point, Facebook carried out full-page newspaper ads, published a blog post and made a website detailing how Apple is out to harm millions of app developers. “We’re standing up to Apple for small businesses everywhere,” read one part of the ad.
Apple CEO Tim Cook then responded to it by saying, “We believe users should have the choice over the data that is being collected about them and how it’s used. Facebook can continue to track users across apps and websites as before, App Tracking Transparency in iOS 14 will just require that they ask for your permission first.”