Apple iOS 14.5 update includes ‘app tracking transparency’ feature

Setting means iPhone users can stop advertisers following their digital lives – to the ire of Facebook

Users of iPhones can now prevent advertisers tracking them across their apps, after the release of the latest software update from Apple introduced the controversial feature despite the protests of Facebook and the advertising industry.

The update, iOS 14.5, includes a setting called “app tracking transparency”, which for the first time requires applications to ask for users’ consent before they are able to track their activity across other apps and websites.

If users decline, then applications will not be able to access the unique user ID that they need to follow individuals as they live their digital lives. The prompt, which will say “Allow [app game] to track your activity across other companies’ apps and websites?” will show up for apps that request access to the ID number. They may be able to use other methods, known as “fingerprinting”, to achieve the same goal, but Apple says that doing so could cause them to be expelled from the App Store.

First announced last summer, app tracking transparency led to immediate pushback from the wider advertising industry. Initially slated for release in the autumn, Apple delayed its implementation for six months in order to give the industry time to prepare.

But the delay wasn’t enough for some, and in December, Facebook launched an all-out assault on Apple, with the company’s head of ads and business products, Dan Levy, claiming that the setting was actually “about control of the entire internet”.

“This is about a long-term view that is anti-personalised advertising and we think is trying to take the world back 10 or 20 years,” he added.

Facebook launched a glossy advertising campaign arguing that the real victim of the changes are “your neighbourhood coffee brewery, your friend who owns their own retail business, your cousin who started an event planning service and the game developers who build the apps you use for free”. Those small businesses, the company said, would lose out if they were no longer able to target customers with personalised adverts.

The social network is not alone in its opposition: a group of Germany’s biggest media, tech and advertising companies, led by digital publishing house Axel Springer, have filed a complaint with the German competition regulator arguing that the new rules could lead to a 60% fall in advertising revenues for app developers.

In France, an almost opposite complaint was made with the country’s privacy regulator, after consumer group Noyb argued in November that not only should the company roll out the privacy tools as soon as possible, but it should also remove the ID for advertisers entirely. “With our complaints we want to enforce a simple principle: trackers are illegal, unless a user freely consents,” said Stefano Rossetti, a privacy lawyer at Noyb.

In a letter to a coalition of privacy groups, Apple’s director of global privacy, Jane Horvath, sought to reassure them – and took the opportunity to criticise Facebook. “We developed [app tracking transparency] for a single reason: because we share your concerns about users being tracked without their consent and the bundling and reselling of data by advertising networks and data brokers.

“Facebook and others have a very different approach to targeting,” Horvath added. “Not only do they allow the grouping of users into smaller segments, they use detailed data about online browsing activity to target ads.

Alongside the privacy features, iOS 14.5 enables iPhone users to unlock their phone with their Apple Watch if they are wearing a face mask, and supports Apple’s lost-key-tracking device AirTag. It shipped alongside an update to macOS that fixes a “critical” security flaw.

Contributor

Alex Hern UK technology editor

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
iOS 13: Apple launches faster iPhone software with more privacy
Update opens apps twice as fast, includes Sign in with Apple to protect personal data

Samuel Gibbs

03, Jun, 2019 @6:26 PM

Article image
Apple faces multimillion US settlement over 'in-app purchases' by children
Lawsuit filed in 2011 by five parents in California complained expensive paid-for extras were accessible by children without password. By Charles Arthur

Charles Arthur, technology editor

26, Feb, 2013 @3:46 PM

Article image
Apple heads toward Google-free iOS6 as YouTube app is dropped

YouTube app will not appear on latest version of Apple's mobile software as firm looks to distance itself from links with Google

Juliette Garside

08, Aug, 2012 @10:30 AM

Article image
Microsoft president's criticism of app stores puts pressure on Apple
Cut of up to 30% charged by app stores obstructs fair competition, claims Brad Smith

Alex Hern Technology editor

21, Jun, 2020 @8:25 PM

Article image
Apple denies iPhones are ‘a national security threat’ to China
Chinese state broadcaster labelled iPhone a location tracking threat that could expose ‘state secrets’. By Samuel Gibbs

14, Jul, 2014 @10:47 AM

Article image
Path fined $800,000 by FTC over iOS privacy breach
Social networking app grabbed personal contact data from iPhone and iPad users and allowed children under 13 to sign up. By Charles Arthur

Charles Arthur

01, Feb, 2013 @6:21 PM

Article image
Planet Apple: views from around the globe
The company’s size and international reach means it affects the lives of people across the world, from Shenzhen workers to Taylor Swift. Here’s how, writes Charles Arthur

Charles Arthur

01, Feb, 2015 @4:00 PM

Article image
iOS update: Apple apologises for breaking new iPhones
An update to iOS 8 released on Wednesday left iPhone owners unable to make phone calls. By Alex Hern

Alex Hern

25, Sep, 2014 @10:17 AM

Article image
Apple's iOS update will be bad news for developers, but a boon for users | John Naughton
The tech giant’s monopoly over App Store content will bring a change to data privacy on its devices that has advertisers worried

John Naughton

05, Sep, 2020 @3:00 PM

Article image
Apple promises a good night's sleep with new iPhone feature
‘Night Shift’ makes screen of mobile device redder at night, following research that suggests it can help with sleep

Alex Hern

12, Jan, 2016 @12:23 PM