Apple’s newest software update for its phones and tablets dropped on April 26, 2021. With iOS 14.5 comes a new privacy tool, and it may be a big problem for some of the companies that count on receiving user data: companies like Facebook.
With Apple’s newest update, applications trying to access user activity outside their own app operations will trigger a popup, asking if you, the user, are okay with that. You can then select not to allow that sort of tracking.
According to Apple, the average app has as many as six trackers embedded in them to harvest user data. That data might be how much time you spend using your phone at a go, where you go, what order you commonly use applications in, or how often you check the news, shopping apps, or games. Some of the data is used by the app in question to tailor the ads they show you, but most of it is sold. Buyers include advertisers and data brokers, companies which create intricate profiles of you to then sell on to other retailers or advertisers.
It sounds malicious, and it’s certainly invasive, but it’s almost always purely commercial – companies want you to buy things, and the best way to influence you to do that is to know every detail about how you work. Targeted advertising is central to how Facebook makes revenue. Facebook’s database of users can be sorted by very specific criteria to be sold to very specific advertisers. How often have you browsed your wall only to see an ad for something you thought of yesterday? They’re not reading your mind or listening in on your conversations (anymore); they just have very closely studied your habits.
Facebook, along with other companies that function similarly, fought this update, running catchy ads about how small business owners will be harmed by blocking personalized ads. But Apple’s new privacy tool, called AppTrackingTransparency, puts the choice where it ought to be, in the user’s hands.
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