Apple iOS Update With Tracking Consent Prompts Mixed Reaction

Apple has this week released its iOS 14.5 update, in what campaigners hope will be a watershed moment for online privacy.

The latest iOS update will require apps to ask for permission to track your activity online. If an app is launched on a device running iOS 14.5, an “App Tracking Transparency” (ATT) label should display and ask the user whether they agree to let the app track them across other companies’ apps and websites.

Essentially, this ‘nutrition label’ will explain to the user just what the app will do with their personal data. Consumers who opt-out of tracking will likely see fewer relevant adverts.

But this is a major concern for the mobile advertising industry, as well as companies such as Facebook, which could see advertising revenue decline as much as $3 billion annually. Other firms are equally concerned. Earlier this month Snapchat acknowledged it was exploring ways to circumvent Apple’s ban on tracking iPhone users.

Business impact?

Facebook however has been the most vocal opponent of the upcoming change, and launched an ad campaign last year slamming Apple, claiming the new technology would be “devastating” to smaller businesses.

Facebook also tested a pop-up message that explained the benefits of data collection to users, arguing personalised ads “support small businesses and keep apps free”.

In July last year a group of European digital advertising associations criticised Apple for not adhering to an ad-industry system for seeking user consent under European privacy rules.

Digital marketing agency AccuraCast waded into the issue, warning the change is going to have a big impact on businesses of all sizes.

“Most people in business have heard the rumours – when iOS 14.5 comes in, it’ll bring with it a new app policy which requires all users to ask for permission to track them across third-party apps and websites,” said Farhad Divecha, MD and founder of AccuraCast.

“This is bad news for businesses that haven’t heeded the warnings and subsequently prepared for this huge change,” said Divecha. “While it’s understandable that they may have been dealing with shorter term problem like the pandemic, we always knew it was coming – it was just a matter of when, so businesses should have started planning for this eventuality.”

“Of course, Apple had taken an interesting approach to this – not just in the timings but by not being clear on what this new update will look like, the results of the testing and subsequently, how many will be affected,” said Divecha. “Businesses are almost walking blindly into a new playing field.”

“Conversions will inevitably go down and many businesses won’t understand why,” warned Divecha. “This is the first way to overcoming this hurdle; acknowledgement. Once businesses know why this is, they can work around it – but they need to act now.”

Privacy win?

Privacy campaigners however hope that the App Tracking Transparency (ATT) in iOS 14.5 could effectively end so-called identifier for advertisers (IDFA) for those in the Apple ecosystem at least.

This is a method used by apps to track a user on their iPhone across apps and services. Users are often tracked by apps and other online services, and the information gathered is often sold without a person’s knowledge.

IDFA for example is used by Facebook to track a user across other apps and websites they visit.

Apple had revealed the change of direction at its annual World Wide Developers Conference (WWDC) in June 2020, when it warned that app developers would need to provide more information about the data they collect on users.

Essentially, apps will be required to show a pop-up screen before they enable a form of tracking commonly needed to show personalised ads.

Apple says the new feature is aimed at giving users greater transparency over how their information is being used.

Business opportunity?

And some are viewing the change as an opportunity, and not a threat to their business models.

“iOS 14.5’s App-Tracking Transparency (ATT) feature is a game-changing moment in terms of transparency, placing privacy at the heart of tech policy,” explained Lynne Capozzi, CMO of digital experience company Acquia.

“But while it will be welcomed by Apple’s user base – with some 63 percent of consumers supporting the initiative – the ‘opt-in policy’ has proved hugely divisive, and Facebook’s backlash against it shows a real fear that ATT will damage business,” said Capozzi.

“However, the emphasis on transparency should be seized as an opportunity rather than feared as a threat,” Capozzi said. “For too long brands have misused consumer data leading to an erosion of trust – a huge 55 percent of consumers have no idea how brands are using their data.”

“The onus is now on marketers to follow Apple’s lead and regain that trust by showing consumers exactly how their data is being used, and finding personalised ways to engage with their audience with their consent,” Capozzi added.

“Despite Facebook being the most vocal opponent of Apple’s planned privacy changes, its decision to trial ‘opt in’ notifications for tracking activity shows that Apple’s move will be the catalyst for wider industry change said Capozzi.

“And with 57 percent of marketers adopting more consent-driven personalisation strategies as a result of privacy-led changes by Apple and Google, it’s clear that the landscape is fundamentally altered,” Capozzi concluded. “The sooner brands recognise that giving consumers back control of their data benefits both the business and its users, the sooner trust can be restored.”

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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