How Is Apple Protecting Your Privacy?

iOS 14.5: Apple says contentious new Phone update can still lead to ‘great outcome for all parties’ amid fallout with Facebook

Andrew Griffin@_andrew_griffin
Monday 26 April 2021 18:53
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Apple's chief privacy engineer has defended its controversial new operating system update as an attempt to ensure users "to have a great experience and to have their rights be respected".

Despite very public disputes over its new privacy features, advertising companies could be able to find a "great outcome for all parties", Apple told The Independent as the new feature was introduced.

The company's latest software update for iPhones and iPads – numbered iOS 14.5 – brings a host of changes including new features. But probably the most newsworthy and certainly the most contentious of them is the introduction of App Tracking Transparency, or ATT.

The new feature will force developers to ask permission to see the unique identifier that has until now been used to track phones and their users as they move between different apps. Given most users are expected not to give the explicit opt-in to such tracking that is required, the move is set to bring significant changes to advertising companies including Facebook.

The feature was first revealed last summer and was supposed to arrive with the introduction of iOS 14 in September. But Apple opted to delay it into 2021, saying that it needed more time to ensure developers were ready.

In the time since, Apple has faced vociferous and loud criticism from companies including Facebook. The social media company accused Apple of punishing small businesses, and claimed it was misleading its customers.

But Erik Neuenschwander, who heads up Apple's work on privacy and the introduction of the feature, said that he hopes the tool will allow those businesses to flourish while also respecting users' privacy.

His comments come as the owner of Snapchat was reportedly looking at ways around the rules, and said that it had found a way to gather much of the same information. Asked whether there was a danger that developers could find a way around the new protections, Mr Neuenschwander said that could mean one of two things.

"Either it means that they think they've hit upon a way to flout the policies and sneak onto users' devices and not respect their privacy," he told The Independent. "That's something that we are continually on the lookout for, with our app review process. And and I think that we will, it's a high area of focus for us.

"But the other way to look at that is, well, they find a way around to provide great advertising while providing greater respect for user privacy. And that is an outcome that I hope happens.

"That's an outcome that we've seen on the web. A few years ago, we introduced a technology called intelligent tracking prevention into our Safari web browser. And there were similar concerns at the time that that technology would remove the ability for advertisers to make money, that Safari users would be valued at zero by advertising technology marketplace, that Safari users would be banned from the internet, all of these things. And none of that has come to pass.

"And in fact, advertising revenues have gone up. And what that tells me is that they have found ways to both respect the protections that ITP provides while providing great advertising. And that's a great outcome for all parties, including users."

Mr Neuenschwander also noted that Apple had used the delay between the announcement and introduction to build in new protections in response to feedback from developers. That included the enhancement of a tool called SKAdNetwork, which allows advertisers to track the success of their marketing campaign but without seeing data about individual users.

“That was a product of continuing to talk to our developers and understand what's important for providing great experiences without shortchanging any of the privacy protections,” he said.

The additional time has also allowed developers to raise concerns and to integrate the changes and raise issues, he said, such that Apple does not expect major technical problems with the rollout.

“We heard from developers that in some cases, they needed additional time to make changes to their systems so that they could give proper effect to the user’s choice,” he said. “And they've had some substantial time to do so many of them have been in communication with us. And I think, from my understanding, there's good clarity and good progress.”

After the feature was announced, Apple was accused by companies including Facebook of having taken the step in part to ensure the flourishing of its own services, which do not require ads, amid claims that it was misleading customers. But Mr Neuenschwander re-iterated that the feature was intended to benefit its users.

"Our chief principle for ATT, and in fact for all the features that we deliver into our products is the user – we want the user to have a great experience and to have their rights be respected," he said. "And we consider one of those rights to be privacy.

"So ATT grew out of a desire to give users increased choice and visibility into a particular kind of data use, that was a concern to them. And that's what motivates us for all the things that we build into our products."

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