Despite the transparency of application tracking, Apple allows Facebook, Snap to track user activity

Apple’s App Tracking Transparency feature has almost broken the proverbial door for Facebook and Snap by disabling targeted advertising unless the user agrees. The report now claims that Apple allows these social media companies to follow a “much looser interpretation” of the application tracking transparency policy introduced with iOS 14.

The Financial Times reports:

“Apple has allowed app developers to collect data from its billion iPhone users for targeted advertising, in an unrecognized change that allows companies to follow a much looser interpretation of its controversial privacy policy.”

To keep up to date, the App Tracking Transparency feature allows iPhone users to choose whether their identity for advertisers (IDFA tags) is collected and used by installed apps and services. Facebook and Snap relied heavily on IDFA tags to track user activity and deliver targeted revenue-generating ads. At one point, Facebook even published newspaper ads all over the page claiming that this policy harms small businesses. The executive director of the social media giant, Mark Zuckerberg, even told investors that they expect a drop in income if Apple implements this policy, which it did. Snap also tried to circumvent the policy provisions.

iOS application monitoring transparency 14.5

A quiet truce for mutual benefit

Report from FT claims that companies such as Facebook and Snap “are allowed to continue sharing signals at the level of users from the iPhone, as long as the data is anonymized and aggregated, and not linked to specific user profiles.” He notes that Snap told its investors that it will share the data of its 306 million users with advertisers. If you’re wondering, this includes users who explicitly ask Snape not to “track” data. The platform claims it would help advertisers gain “more complete real-time insight” into how ad campaigns are conducted. Users’ personal data will reportedly be “blurred and aggregated”.

Companies on social media seem to be getting away with this by drawing a thin line of ambiguity into Apple’s rules. Companies “may not derive data from the device for the purpose of unique identification,” says Apple. However, the iPhone maker allows app makers to use iPhone “group-level” signals to target ads to specific user groups called “cohorts.” People in such groups typically have common behaviors that cannot be traced back to their IDFA tags.

It is reportedly “unclear” whether Apple actually “blessed these solutions” because it refused to answer any specific questions. FT says: “For anyone who strictly interprets Apple’s policies, these solutions violate the privacy policies set for iOS users.”

FT also cites an October report which said that the monitoring policy of monitoring the monitoring of applications was “functionally useless” to prevent third-party monitoring:

“Using the open source Lockdown Privacy app and manual testing, we found that Transparency Tracking apps made no difference in the total number of active third-party followers and had minimal impact on the total number of third-party tracking connectivity attempts. Furthermore, we have confirmed that detailed personal data or device data have been sent to trackers in almost all cases. ATT was functionally useless in stopping third-party tracking, even when users explicitly selected “Ask app not to track”.

Transparency of application tracking

Our Take

We can’t help but help FT’s noting that user data is at the mercy of Big Tech corporations. The way data is processed and treated is a complete black box for the average user. Little can be done to help things if Apple allows social media companies to ignore the rules it has created for data protection.

“Companies will commit to reviewing user-level data only after they become anonymous, but without access to data or behind-the-scenes algorithms, users won’t actually know if their data privacy has been preserved.”

[Via Financial Times]

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Naveen Kumar

Friendly communicator. Music maven. Explorer. Pop culture trailblazer. Social media practitioner.

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