Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Apple Card’s Targeted Ads May Be Non-Creepy, But They’re Still Unexpected

Steve Moser (via Michael Tsai):

Apple will target users for marketing emails and push notifications based on their transaction history. “For example, Apple may send a message to your device that is relevant to people who typically purchase travel.” Apple might have been able to negotiate reduced fees by agreeing to allow advertising to Apple Card users.

Moser posted a copy of the on-boarding text in full, which describes this in more detail:

Apple may use your Apple Card account status, such as whether you have applied for or have a current Apple Card account, to determine whether a message is relevant to you, including a marketing message. Apple may also send messages to your device, which may use information known only to you and your device, such as your transaction history and location, to help determine whether a message is relevant to you. For example, Apple may send a message to your device that is relevant to people who typically purchase travel. Apple does not need to know whether you purchased travel. Your device can use your transaction history to decide whether the message is relevant to you. This helps to ensure that you receive relevant communications, while protecting your privacy. Apple does not know which messages you see on your device.

Anonymous and aggregate information that cannot be tied to you may also be used for Apple Card marketing and other messaging. You may opt out of marketing messages by clicking the unsubscribe link in a marketing email or by turning off notifications for Apple Card.

Based on what I’m reading here, it sounds like Apple is sending push notification message text to all Apple Card users, but only displaying it if it’s relevant to a specific user. It’s a clever way of doing semi-targeted ads without violating users’ privacy.

I think that’s less relevant to users than whether they expect to receive ads in their email account and on their lock screen because they signed up for Apple’s credit card. The more nihilistic user might, but Apple is supposed to be the company that doesn’t point to some clause in their terms and conditions as a free pass to exploit users.

Apple’s marketing website:

At Apple, we firmly believe in your right to privacy. That’s why we created a unique architecture for Apple Card that generates things like your transaction history and spending summaries right in the Wallet app on your iPhone.

Of course, Goldman Sachs will use your data to operate Apple Card. But they will never share or sell your data to third parties for marketing or advertising.

Apple’s solution is in agreement with the letter of these statements, but certainly not the spirit.1

There is are parts of this product that are distinctly un-Apple-like, but none more so than the use of push notifications to send targeted advertisements. I do not believe that Apple must compromise its advantages and expectations to compete effectively in the services business; but, if it feels like it does, why should I choose its offerings over those from competitors?


  1. Also, I thought that using push notifications to deliver advertisements was against Apple’s policies. It certainly was. But a 2018 rewrite of the App Review policies document indicates a softer stance (italics mine):

    4.5.4 Push Notifications must not be required for the app to function, and should not be used for advertising, promotions, or direct marketing purposes or to send sensitive personal or confidential information. Abuse of these services may result in revocation of your privileges.

    “Must not” indicates an outright ban on app functionality being dependent on enabling push notifications, but “should not” is basically just a recommendation. Gross.

    Update: The allowance of push notification advertising actually dates back to 2016. Thanks, George↩︎