O iOS 14.5 brought another boost to the privacy functions of the operating system of the apple. From now on, whether on the iPhone, iPad or Apple TV, apps will have to request permission to track data from other apps or websites. While it’s good for the user, this little notification is causing a stir. No wonder Apple and Facebook have been in a tug of war since July 2020 due to the feature that only went into operation in April 2021.
But what are the real impacts of this new development? How will the advertising market be impacted by the change? And the most important question: what do users get out of it? Come with me and I’ll explain everything in the following lines.
What is this new iPhone privacy feature?
Apple’s new system feature, which came with iOS 14.5, is popularly known by the acronym ATT: “App Tracking Transparency”. The function definitions appear on the “Tracking” page, which is within the “Privacy” menu in the system settings.
In the eyes of users, the tool corresponds to a notification in which the app requests permission to track activity on apps and websites from other instances. To receive these requests, the user needs to enable the “Allow Requests” option in the system settings. Then, if an app needs to access this information, a warning will be issued on the device’s screen once.
Data access requests will be listed in the system settings under “Tracking”. On this page, you can either revoke or allow the collection of information for a specific application. The user is still able to disable requests by disabling the “Allow Requests” option.
“When this option is disabled, all new app tracking requests are automatically denied,” says the function description.
What’s behind this simple notification?
The change, however, goes far beyond a simple notification. This is because, as of iOS 14.5, iPadOS 14.5 and tvOS 14.5, apps will only be able to track browsing data when the user grants permission. This means that if the notification doesn’t appear because requests are disabled or the answer is “no”, the developer who needs this information will have bad news.
But first of all, what does data tracking mean? For Apple, this is the act of linking user or device data collected by an app to information from other sources for targeted advertising or advertising measurement. “Tracking also refers to sharing user or device data with data brokers [data brokers, em inglês]”, they explained.
This data can be accessed with the aid of a code called “Identifier for Advertisers” (IDFA). It is an advertising identifier, as the name suggests, used for tracking and that is attached to the device. And that’s where ATT comes into the picture: if there is no permission, this code will not be revealed to the requester.
Apple gives developers more explanations of the change on a page. According to the company, techniques such as fingerprint cannot be used to collect this data either. Furthermore, consent must be given even if monitoring takes place on a web page within the app (webview).
Remember that users were able to limit access to IDFA before. Also in the “Privacy” menu, there is the “Apple Advertising” page, where you can disable custom ads. But right now, permission needs to be given before any tracking takes place.
More control and more transparency to the user
When asked about how the resource can contribute to the privacy of users, the coordinator of the Law and Technology area at the Institute of Technology and Society (ITS), Christian Perrone, raised two questions about the novelty.
The first has to do with changing default behavior. For him, from the moment users can choose whether or not they want to share their information, this ends up reducing the amount of data available to companies.
“Let’s put it this way, the fact that iOS defaults to this, which is something you’ve introduced from the beginning, makes people aware of what’s going on,” he told the Techblog.
Perrone further points out that the function alters the way external data is collected, not from within the app itself. “For example, within Facebook, you will continue to share a lot of data,” he said. In other words: platforms will continue to have access to information that is entered by users within the apps themselves, but not from other instances.
The second issue addressed by the ITS coordinator has to do with transparency. He notes that there is a certain perception by people that there is only data sharing within the app. There is also a lack of knowledge among a significant part of the population that other types of data are shared, such as the cell phone model used, the time of use and the like.
“It’s a matter of making this sharing more transparent, and somehow making people more in control,” he explained. “It’s not because they didn’t necessarily have other tools before. But it is a more agile and broader tool in this sense”.
On the other hand, the feature can change the way advertising is targeted to users. Although he sees the change as positive for the end consumer, the digital marketing consultant, Fernando Kanarski, notes that ads tend to become more generic due to the lack of personalization.
“For the consumer, at first, it is good, because he is not being monitored”, he reported. “But from an advertising standpoint, he’s going to see less and less personalized advertising, and maybe he’s going to be upset because he’s going to see ads that have completely nothing to do with his universe.”
The advertising market side
But what about the other side of the story? Kanarski also raises two questions on the subject. First, he talks about companies that develop free apps to make money on content, user data or to get users. In his perception, these people will be very impacted because they will no longer be able to track users.
From the advertisers’ point of view, the consultant notes that the small advertiser should be the most impacted by this change, as he will no longer be able to capture much information. “Consequently, he will suffer much more with the segmentation of his campaigns, with the customization of his campaigns”, he explained.
According to Kanarski, some of his smaller clients are already suffering from the move. The consultant explains that this group depends on Facebook segmentation and user personalization to do remarketing. As a result, these customers are no longer able to customize ads as much as they used to.
“We already realize that there are ads much more dispersed,” he said. “Today I can’t exactly focus on a specific user. Unfortunately, the tool starts to disperse because it doesn’t know a lot of user information anymore”.
Larger companies, on the other hand, look for other paths. In order to circumvent Apple’s changes, both Google and Facebook are starting to use more and more artificial intelligence to try to understand who the user is.
This method, however, requires a large amount of data for the computer to better process the information. Thus, a very large advertiser tends to have a larger number of people accessing their websites, ads and the like, which can help you in this process.
“I think the big impact is this: whoever makes money with content, with free apps, will suffer a lot; those who are big may not suffer so much, because of this issue of intelligence and other media”, he concluded. “Now the small advertiser may have a very big impact.”
Perrone follows the consultant’s reasoning. He notes that for companies that make a living from targeted advertising, changing default behavior tends to result in a complex situation for them. “It may be that you have a greater difficulty in having this more specific targeted advertising,” he said.
Alternatives to the advertising market
The ITS coordinator also believes that there will be a need to find other means that do not depend on this process, which may end up favoring some companies. One of the examples is FLoC, a Google solution that seeks to be an alternative to third-party cookies. But the technology faces some resistance, as is the case with Microsoft, which will not adopt the feature in its browser.
Google, too, has long been preparing for a world without data tracking, as Kanarski noted.
“Google, for some years, has been thinking much more about artificial intelligence, collecting data in a slightly less intrusive way, and preparing precisely its partner network, its advertising network, so as not to rely so much on cookies, not to depend so much on customization”, he explained.
The consultant also said that the Techblog that the market has been seeking the use of metrics based on interactions within platforms. This would be the case with Google, since the company is able to build personalization lists from a video watched on YouTube, for example.
Kanarski is unaware of other external tools that are used for this purpose. “Even because the persecution is precisely against external tools that are capturing data and customizing”, he said. “What the market has been doing is: using as much of each tool’s native features as possible to customize the ads within that tool.”
Other companies may still follow Apple’s path in the future. Google, for example, focused heavily on privacy in Google I/O 2021. During the event, the company made it easier to delete recent searches. Additionally, Android 12 has been announced with a new Privacy Panel, an indicator to tell you if an app is using the camera or microphone (like iOS 14) and more.
Following in Apple’s footsteps, Google will also make it difficult to track users between apps on Android.
Facebook criticizes new iOS 14 feature
While the news is welcome to users, the same cannot be said of Facebook. In July 2020, the social network’s chief financial officer said iOS 14 could negatively impact ads. By the company’s forecasts revealed the following month, Audience Network revenue would drop by more than 50%.
In the conflict between the two companies, the social network even created a campaign against the iPhone maker that indirectly criticizes the new privacy function of iOS 14. The episode took place in February 2021. Then, in April, Facebook’s apps and Instagram have started asking for permission to track data from other apps and websites to keep the services free.
For Kanarski, unlike Google, which decided to “go after it”, Facebook decided to complain and seek some legal solution. He explains that the social network needs a lot more customization. “Maybe that’s why he complained a lot”, he added. “Facebook is very people-based and people’s actions. And maybe that action by Apple made them sort of taken by surprise.”
“I don’t think it’s the most correct line, because for the advertiser, we just want to advertise,” he added. “We just want to get to the right person in the easiest way possible. If this will be via artificial intelligence, if it will be via data collection, for us, it doesn’t matter”.