Apple’s new update, iOS 14.5, is here and everyone has something to say about it. One particular feature is raising controversy about ads and privacy: App Tracking Transparency has big companies battling each other.
And you may be thinking: “cool to know what Apple does with privacy but I’m an Android user, I don’t care”. But this has the potential to start a chain reaction that will affect us all.
However, iOS 14.5 also brings lots of non-political features worth mentioning before diving into some serious stuff.
iOS 14 was launched in September and its latest version: iOS 14.4 was released on January 26. As a larger update, 14.5 took longer to arrive than normal updates: usually, they arrived once a month with bug fixes and some new features.
But what is so special about iOS 14.5?
Here are some of its most prominent features.
Now that masks are part of our lives, iOS 14.5 lets you unlocked your iPhone while wearing a mask. That is, as long as you have an Apple Watch to confirm the unlocked. No more excuses for not wearing masks.
The virtual assistant will adapt to your preferred music app: you can now ask Siri to play Adele on Spotify.
It will also have two additional voice options to choose from besides the traditional female voice in English. Although Scarlet Johannson’s voice won’t be one of those: sad news for those who wanted to recreate the movie Her.
Another interesting feature is that Siri will have the ability to call 911 for you. In case of emergency, Siri has your back.
A battery recalibration tool will help users whose internal battery is not working as expected. If it doesn’t solve their problem, the update will suggest a free change of battery.
Dual-SIM 5G global support
You can have two lines of service on the same phone. Previously, this feature was only available in mainland China.
Console controller support
Apple brings support for the latest console controllers to iOS and tvOS. Play games on your tablet or phone using your PlayStation 5 or Xbox Series X|S controllers.
Apple is adding 217 new emojis. Users will find more inclusive emojis with skin-ton variations and consistent gender options.
This is an iPhone running iOS 14.5 accessory that you can attach to keys, handbags or other items to help you locate them in case you lose them.
Controversial: Ad tracking disruption
As we know, a huge part of marketing is based on knowing who your audience is. The digital world has facilitated this by collecting data from your target audience to perfect campaign strategies. However, there’s a lot of panic around privacy, and Apple’s new update includes App Tracking Transparency.
What is App Tracking Transparency?
App Tracking Transparency is an anti-tracking privacy measure that requires apps to ask for user permission before tracking data and activity.
For example, you’ll see a popup when you open Facebook saying that Facebook will like to track you across other apps and websites, and you can choose whether to allow it or not.
Users have been able to opt-out of ad tracking before, though. But iOS 14.5 forces developers to ask permission in the first place and make it really clear. This feature has naturally raised anger from companies built over ad revenue, especially Facebook, which has been vocal in their objections.
What sort of data do apps collect?
Apps like Facebook collect personal information and sell it to third parties companies to build ad profiles. Typically, the data they collect is:
- Your location.
- What other apps you’re using.
- When you logged into the app.
- An encrypted version of your email address.
- Your phone number.
If you look in Facebook’s settings, as I did, there’s a part called “off Facebook activity” where you can see they know what you do outside their app.
This is Facebook’s explanation of why they track you.
For Apple users, in particular, apps go after their IDFA. The Identifier for Advertisers is a unique device identifier on every iPhone and iPad. Advertisers love IDFA because it gives them data that allows them to build specific, individual profiles and segment types of users that fit specific profiles like demographics or age.
And iOs 14.5 force app developers to explicitly ask for permission from users to use IDFA. Developers have the chance to explain why users should allow tracking, though, and when to show Apple’s prompt. But they predict most users won’t agree.
The controversy goes back to 2019 when iOS gave users the option to completely turn off ad ID sharing. Ever since then, media, tech, and advertising companies have expressed their objections.
Besides, Apple has always marketed itself as a privacy-first company and after the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica data scandal, users are more concerned about their information.
However, Apple delayed the App Tracking Transparency feature – it was supposed to come out in September 2020- to give app developers and websites more time to adapt their services.
Pros and cons of App Tracking Transparency
Some say App Tracking Transparency is the best, some say it’s the worst. The truth is, it’s a complex issue and deserves to be addressed in-depth. Let’s start with the “bad news”:
Advertisements will stop being relevant.
Since the apps can’t collect your data, they can’t provide you with targeted ads. Currently, you are seeing ads that are relevant to you: that store you always check out, a discount for your Valentine’s gift, and all sorts of things that are important to you.
This ad, for example, follows me everywhere I go because I usually visit the brand’s site:
Once you stop letting apps know you, you’ll continue to see ads. Just that they will be as irrelevant to you as TV ads and therefore annoying.
Over time, some experts say, users who opt-out will see ads in languages they don’t speak, for products they already own or have no relevance at all.
Performance media companies and the marketers that rely on them will be at risk.
Less relevant ads mean less revenue for companies. Developers expect big losses because most users won’t opt-in. Not only Twitter, Tiktok, and Facebook, among other big companies, will be hit: local businesses will also be affected.
As the number of businesses running their Facebook ads might decrease, there’ll be increasing costs for small businesses using the platform.
Following this line of thought, experts conjecture the day could come when consumers would need to pay for certain features on apps that are now free.
Apple gains more power
We know big companies don’t need more power. However, iOS 14.5 might give Apple just that. Some companies are affirming this isn’t about privacy but profit.
Apple would prevent competitors to collect data while they still use it. Moreover, apps will have to turn to charge consumers for their revenue once they can’t sell data to third parties. And Apple takes a commission on all app purchases.
The difference in tracking is Apple only uses that information within its own apps, doesn’t link it to profiles from third parties, and doesn’t sell the data. You can also disable that tracking.
If an app is really determined to track you, it will do it regardless of the update.
The app won’t be able to use IDFA, but it’ll still be able to generate secret data without Apple detecting it. If they got caught, they’ll be sanction, sure, but big players like Facebook or Tiktok might get away with it thanks to behind-the-scenes negotiations.
In the end, if we stick with this argument, the App Tracking Transparency feature wouldn’t change many things.
It puts consent as a priority.
Talking about consent has become a major priority when discussing how relationships should work. But trust and clear communication doesn’t have to be purely relationship values: they are key in every situation involving two parts.
Since the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica data scandal, the way big companies manage personal information has raised concern among the public. Apple’s new policy is a step towards what users were claiming for. Tech companies can’t operate behind people’s backs. Yes, many already know that social media isn’t free, that Instagram is selling your information to advertisers. But a lot of users still aren’t aware of this and it’s their right to be asked for permission to track them.
Moreover, the feature was available before but buried in settings where most people wouldn’t look. The problem to Facebook and other companies, it seems, it’s that power isn’t hidden anymore but rather exposed in plain sight. Now everyone can use it.
It builds trust.
“Companies that are transparent about the information they gather, give customers control of their personal data, and offer fair value in return for it will be trusted and will earn ongoing and even expanded access”.
Sure, in this case, companies are forced to be transparent. But that also leads us to the next point.
It’s a chance to re-evaluate things.
It’s a new opportunity to re-examine how we interact with technology and what changes should be made in order to have the best online experience with both sides (companies and users) benefiting from it.
Change is unavoidable. Just a couple of weeks ago, TikTok was targeted in a London child privacy lawsuit. To address concerns, TikTok will open a European Transparency and Accountability Centre.
And last week, The Guardian reported Facebook allows advertisers to target children interested in smoking and alcohol.
People are paying more attention to what companies are doing with their data and demanding control.
What the future holds
Beyond their first objections, Facebook is aware of the public’s concern and it issued a statement recognizing the ways digital advertisements are evolving and assuring they are investing in new approaches.
Besides, Facebook has been developing online shopping on its platform. Switching budgets away from advertisements to direct commerce could be a solution.
On the other hand, Google will stop using IDFA altogether. It’s not like Google isn’t losing here but as we all know, it already has its own suite of apps to collect a huge amount of data from. With or without Apple’s update, Google will still use your data to build ad profiles. Even though Facebook owns six of the most downloaded apps of 2020, Youtube was among the three top-grossing apps (with $478 million), outrival only by Tinder and Tiktok in the global list.
And don’t forget that Google owns Android and it’s already building “privacy-first” advertisements for desktop. So we could expect a similar change for mobile apps too.
iOS 14.5: Positive or Negative change?
Still, experts examine these new limitations on tracking for advertisements and wonder: will it work? Will it mean we’ll have to start paying for Instagram?
One thing is for sure, Apple’s new update is making us re-think how we interact with apps.
Do you think that iOS 14.5 brings more harm than good? Are these the right measures involving ads?
Let’s continue the conversation in the comment section.