App Tracking Transparency in iOS 14.5 With Craig Federighi

Joanna Stern, Wall Street Journal:

But the most important and most controversial update? App Tracking Transparency — abbreviated to ATT. The privacy feature requires any app that wants to track your activity and share it with other apps or websites to ask for permission.

“We really just want to give users a choice,” Craig Federighi, Apple’s senior vice president of software engineering, told me in an exclusive video interview. “These devices are so intimately a part of our lives and contain so much of what we’re thinking and where we’ve been and who we’ve been with that users deserve and need control of that information.” He added, “The abuses can range from creepy to dangerous.”

The interview is on YouTube, and Apple also put together its own video to explain this feature.

There are lines that stand out in each of those videos that I think are worth consideration. In Stern’s interview, Federighi says that the non-Allow option on the prompt is not labelled “Do Not Track” because “it’s a bit of a cat-and-mouse game around other ways that an app might scheme to create a tracking identifier”; in Apple’s video, the narrator says that “some apps have trackers embedded in them that are taking more data than they need”. Both of these statements reflect the reality of a world where it is valuable to accumulate vast troves of personal behavioural data. Apple says that it will permit no workarounds but, even though it controls the sole native app marketplace for iPhones and iPads, some things will inevitably slip through.

The only way to curb this behaviour is to devalue personal data collection. In my ideal world, advertising could not be targeted based on behavioural characteristics. If that cannot happen, there are other ways of legislating privacy, like creating a framework for personal data usage and ensuring the agency responsible for it has the resources to enforce its rules. Until any of these things happen, the concept of privacy — and the word itself — will be part of a public relations strategy.

To be very clear, I do not mean to imply that Apple does not believe in privacy as a core value. It truly does, and has done for decades. Nor is this pure fluff and marketing; this App Tracking Transparency policy will make a real difference, and you can tell that based on how much Facebook is throwing a tantrum over it. But it bums me out that privacy is not something that people just have, but rather something they must buy — one feature of many on a checklist.