Snapchat Owner ‘Explored Ways’ Of Violating Apple’s Privacy Rules

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Snap, owner of Snapchat, admits it conducted tests into tech that could bypass Apple’s privacy controls to track iPhone users

Snap, the owner of Snapchat, has acknowledged it explored ways to circumvent Apple’s upcoming ban on tracking iPhone users.

The company admitted to the Financial Times it had run test on such a programme for several months to test the impact of the upcoming changes to iOS, expected to be introduced this spring.

But it said it had always planned to discontinue the tests once the anti-tracking features were introduced, as such a system would not be compliant with Apple’s policies.

“We support and will follow Apple’s upcoming guidelines because we have always believed that advertising should respect consumers’ privacy,” the company said.

iPhone XR. Image credit: Apple snapchat snapForbidden code

It added that it is designing an “array of privacy-centric solutions” to ensure it delivers “best-in-class offerings” to advertisers while protecting users’ privacy.

The company argued that Apple’s rules will allow it to gather data on “cohorts” of users who would not be identified individually, an idea that remains controversial and has not yet been proven to be compliant with Apple’s restrictions.

Apple’s policies for developers prohibit the use of analytics software to “collect and send device data to a third party” and the use of data for “uniquely identifying a device”.

Snap is the biggest US-based tech company to date known to have investigated violating Apple’s rules. Several Chinese tech groups have also explored such technologies.

The FT said it had seen internal Snap documents indicating it wanted to use data from third-parties called mobile measurement partners, which includes aggregated IP addresses, and cross-reference it with its own internal data to identify and track users.

Probabilistic matching

The technique, known as “probabilistic matching”, has been advertised as highly accurate by some adtech firms, has been specifically discouraged by Apple.

The company last week began sending developers letters saying they should remove any code that supports the functionality.

Apple also issued cease-and-desist notices last month to Chinese developers who had begun building their own device tracking system, called CAID, into their apps.

Apple’s upcoming rules, called App Tracking Transparency (ATT), only allow users to be tracked with their explicit consent.

Snap in February warned its revenues could be harmed by the changes, which are to be introduced in iOS 14.5.

Adtech ire

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

The company 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”.

Adtech companies are expecting revenues to be hit by the changes, with mobile marketing expert Jayne Peressini recently comparing the new rules to a “zombie apocalypse“.

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