How Apple’s New App Tracking Transparency Policy Works

This week, Apple released a new whitepaper that outlines the ways apps typically track users and handle their data, outlines the company’s privacy philosophy, and offers various details and clarifications on the upcoming change to Tracking Transparency. applications, which (among other things) will require application developers to obtain a user’s permission to participate in the common practice of creating an identifier (called IDFA) to track that user and their activities across multiple applications.

The document states that the change will go into effect with the release of an update for iOS and other Apple operating systems in “early spring” (Apple has previously said this would happen in iOS 14.5, which is now at a late stage. of the beta version). testing) but the company has reportedly already started enforcing some aspects of the new policy with new app submissions, suggesting that a full transition is very imminent. A recent survey found that only about 38.5 percent of users plan to opt out of tracking.

Most of the article is dedicated 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. There are no new disclosures in this section for people who are already familiar with how these systems work, but the information is accurate and most people don’t know much about how their data is tracked and used so it could be helpful. for some.

Apple also uses a section in the document to describe its app privacy labels, which are kind of like food nutrition labels, but instead of describing the nutrients in a meal, they describe the ways an app tracks you or access your data. However, these app privacy labels aren’t worth it to be largely self-reported, and independent observers have found many examples of apps that have inaccurate or incomplete information on these labels.

Trust and antitrust

While the document is aimed in part at users who want to know more about the privacy features of iOS and how mobile apps handle personal data in general, it also repeatedly attempts to argue that the upcoming App Tracking Transparency change will not affect negatively to most advertising. he supported companies severely. “The introduction of past features, such as Safari Intelligent Tracking Prevention, has shown that advertising can continue to be successful while improving the protection of user privacy,” argue the authors.

Some companies, like Facebook, have explored the idea of ​​filing an antitrust case against Apple, arguing that Apple is making third-party apps follow rules that smartphone maker apps don’t have to follow. But this document argues that Apple’s own apps don’t present an acceptance message for tracking because they don’t track through third-party apps for advertising purposes to begin with.

Most of the substantive clarifications are found in the FAQ (frequently asked questions) section of the document. For example, Apple writes that “application developers cannot require you to allow tracking to use the full capabilities of the application,” which means that users will not get reduced functionality in applications if they choose not to track. This comes to a critical caveat about Apple’s upcoming change: the policy prevents tracking across multiple third-party apps if one user is excluded, but both Apple and any other company can still track users across multiple apps if all applications are operated. applications in question. by the same company. The same thing that gives Apple a pass could also apply, for example Google tracking you through Gmail, Google News, Docs, etc. But as soon as Google wants to use a technique that can also see what you are doing in the Apple or Facebook applications, for example, that is when the subscription is required.

Apple offers a separate toggle labeled “Personalized Ads” – totally different from the IDFA-related subscription message – that allows users to decide whether they want to be tracked within Apple’s own applications.

And in relation to the recent wave of rejections of shipments from the App Store, Apple clarifies that a developer “must also respect their choice beyond the advertising identifier.” This means that once a user has opted out of IDFA tracking, the developer should also not track the user through any other method that will produce a similar result, such as fingerprinting the device. The fingerprinting of the device was apparently what caused the wave of rejections we reported last week. “If we learn that a developer is tracking users who request not to be tracked, we will require them to update their practices to respect their choice, or their application may be rejected in the App Store,” the document says.

The FAQs also address criticisms of the effectiveness of App Store privacy labels, although not very effectively. It confirms that the data is self-reported and says “if we learn that a developer may have provided inaccurate information, we will work with them to ensure the accuracy of the information.”

Listing Image by Samuel Axon

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