App Tracking Transparency setting undercut by Apple for partners
posted Saturday Dec 11, 2021 by Scott Ertz
When Apple announced App Tracking Transparency, their privacy feature for iOS and iPadOS, they received a mixed response. Consumers were excited that Apple was finally doing something to live up to their claim that they care about your privacy. But, some companies, Facebook in particular, waged war against the feature. Despite the fight, the feature went into effect, but it turns out that not everyone must abide by the rules.
What is App Tracking Transparency?
The feature, implemented later in the lifespan of iOS 14 than they had intended, is designed to put control over your data into your hands. The feature prevents apps from accessing certain types of identifiable data on your device, both within their app and outside. This includes browsing history, app usage, and more. If you choose "Ask App Not to Track" in the dialog, then the app is denied access to this data cache.
Facebook had originally fought the feature, trying to turn users against Apple. They had messages within their apps, including for page and group managers, talking about how it was going to destroy their ability to target ads correctly on Apple devices. Later, Zuckerberg changed his tune shortly before launch. In the end, it appeared that the apocalypse didn't happen and instead helped the company.
The newest revelation
Some of the companies that Apple was specifically targeting with its App Tracking Transparency have apparently managed to get around the feature - with Apple's permission. Despite CEO Tim Cook calling companies like Facebook and Snap "hucksters just looking to make a quick buck," Apple has worked out an agreement with these companies to allow them to continue to collect private data even after you ask them not to.
The agreement between Apple and a few high-profile developers seems to revolve around trust between Apple and "hucksters." Apple is trusting that, if they give Facebook, Snap, and a few others, access to private data, these companies will not abuse it. They are required to anonymize the data before storing it, so that it is not connected to an individual user. However, these companies are not known for living up to expectations - right Facebook? The agreement, as per both of these companies, states that they "may not derive data from a device for the purpose of uniquely identifying it."
The information about this scenario comes care of a couple of announcements from Snap and Facebook. Snap execs told investors that they were still tracking all 306 million users, including those behind the privacy wall, in an attempt to provide advertisers a more complete picture of their campaigns. Facebook's Sheryl Sandberg said that the company was engaged in a long-term process to rebuild its ad infrastructure using anonymized data.
The question is just how official is this agreement? Both companies have confirmed that Apple is disallowing user-identifiable tracking, suggesting that Apple is in on the deal. However, Apple has not confirmed that any official agreement is in place, suggesting that they could pull the plug on the scenario at any time.
It's likely that Apple is trying not to completely cut the legs out from its most high-profile app publishers. One of the things that Apple accidentally proved with its Epic Games ban is that games and apps have ways to succeed even if they are not officially on the Apple platforms. If the rules within Facebook and Snap are too restrictive, they could find another way to accomplish their goals for Apple users.