The iPhone Will Soon Block Tracking From All Apps by Default

I would forgive you for not knowing that January 28th is Data Protection Day, but we shouldn’t be the least bit surprised that Apple knew. The company is very concerned about protecting the privacy of its users and is only too happy to point out the variety of apps, websites, and other businesses that can store and track your data. Following the announcements at last year’s Worldwide Developers Conference, Apple is ready to take its next big step towards privacy: turn off cross-app user tracking on iPhone by default.

From an upcoming iOS 14 version, Apple will block all Apps from tracking users using a phone’s unique IDFA or advertiser identifier, unless the user has expressly consented. This has a huge impact on the way apps track users in order to target them for advertising and customization services, and it all happens in one fell swoop.

In the past you had to fight to stop the persecution. Now it’s disabled by default.

Think of the IDFA as a fingerprint that specifically identifies you and makes it possible to link your usage data between apps and services. It’s like a browser cookie, only you can’t “delete” it regularly. As soon as you update your iPhone (or iPad), apps will immediately lose access to this IDFA and will have to request access again. You can approve the use of your IDFA app for app. If you don’t, the app won’t be able to access it. This corresponds, for example, to how apps access your location.

Better still, you can revoke access to your IDFA at any time through Settings, just like any other permission. And if you want to go as far as possible, you can even prevent apps from requesting your IDFA. It’s comprehensive.

Apps only have one chance to request tracking and you are always in control.

A chance

Apple isn’t specifying which update will take effect for iOS, but it does say the functionality will be available with a beta release before a public launch. Developers shouldn’t be the least bit surprised, however, as Apple has said and done everything in the past regarding data protection requirements.

Apps only have one chance to ask you to track you using your IDFA, and Apple states that developers can customize some of the text displayed to explain why they are requesting this access. However, apps must not deny access to features or offer payments to enable tracking. If developers are found to be undermining the system in any way, they are at risk of being removed from the app store.

This change applies to every app on the iPhone and iPad, including Apple’s, although the ramifications for non-Apple apps are significant. Apps are specifically designed to use tracking through IDFA to target advertisements – direct or all – and this change completely turns that model on its head.

We’ll have to wait and see how apps try to send this change out to their users, but I can’t see a lot of people opting to enable tracking. In contrast to allowing the camera, microphone or location to be used, activating IDFA tracking does not provide an easily described benefit for the user. At first glance, it looks like the app developer is the only party that benefits from it.

Apple

Of course, that doesn’t mean apps don’t have other ways to track you. Any log-in app can of course track your activity, especially when multiple apps are used by a single company. There are also vastly advanced technologies out there that aggregate a lot of seemingly different data about people to form patterns and create a user profile that this change won’t necessarily thwart.

The tech savvy among us have a general understanding that data gathered from our web browser history and our phones can be correlated to paint a fairly detailed picture of who we are, what we do, what interests us are and where we are going. But you’d be surprised how little the average person understands about the situation. Despite the fact that it is in Apple’s best interest to make this information known, it is primarily in everyone’s Interest in the general public to understand how much data we collect.

On this privacy day, read just a little how you’re being tracked online, in apps, and on your devices. You will be better off.

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