Apple launches new privacy campaign amid iPhone 12 launch and tensions with Facebook

Latest software update adds tracking features likely to cause problems for advertisers

Andrew Griffin
Thursday 03 September 2020 13:53
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Apple advert demonstrates new privacy settings

Apple has launched a new campaign stressing the importance of privacy amid tensions with Facebook and the launch of new products.

The new ads attempt to convince users of the importance of privacy and security tools in Apple's products that look to keep their data protected.

It comes as Apple prepares to launch iOS 14, its latest software update, which includes a variety of features that stop advertisers from tracking their users.

Apple has argued that such features are part of its commitment that "privacy is a human right", and that they are created to protect users.

But advertisers and firms including Facebook have argued that the tools could do considerable damage to their business.

The ads also come ahead of the rumoured launch of a range of products in the coming weeks, including the iPhone 12. While the ads make no specific reference to any of Apple's products, it suggests that Apple will be focusing on privacy features as it brings its new phones and other hardware to market.

In the short video, users are shown publicly declaring the kinds of information that some devices and apps track about their users: their private messages, their personal health information, and their location, for instance. It begins with a man telling a bus that he has been browsing for divorce lawyers, and ends with a woman shouting her credit card number through a megaphone in a park.

The ad – titled "Over Sharing" and published on the company's YouTube channel – is intended to highlight features in Apple devices that stop that kind of tracking, by limiting how third-party developers can see and use that information. Apple said that each of the examples in the video were intended to highlight a different privacy feature in its apps, including Maps, Apple Pay and iMessage.

Apple has repeatedly stressed the value of privacy – both as a philosophical commitment that comes from chief executive Tim Cook as well as a selling point of its devices. The new ad is just the latest in the company's somewhat antagonistic privacy campaigns, which last year saw it post a huge ad that appeared to troll the rest of the tech industry during one of its biggest events of the year.

But the new ad also puts it in yet more conflict with Facebook, which said in a blog post last week that Apple's changes will "have a far-reaching impact on the developer ecosystem" and that they will make it harder for applications to make money.

Apple is already in conflict with developers over payments. In recent weeks, a number of high-profile developers – most notably Fortnite – have complained that Apple is misusing its power over the App Store to force them to give up what they claim is an unfair portion of revenues made through the online store.

The new iOS 14 update includes a host of features intended to limit the information that can be collected about users. Apps will have to declare the information they use, Safari will stop them from taking information, and the system will alert users when an app is accessing parts of the phone such as the microphone, camera or clipboard.

But one of the most controversial features is also largely invisible to users. iOS 14 asks that users consent to the collection of Apple's unique identifier – known as the Identifier for Advertisers or IDFA – which is used to identify them to advertisers, and considerably helps data collection.

Given that most users are expected not to consent to that opt-in process, many advertisers have complained that the "IDFA" will now be largely useless, putting a major limit on the way that people can be tracked and ads can be tailored.

Facebook warned that change could lead it to completely stop offering a tool known as Audience Network, which allows advertisers to take their Instagram and Facebook campaigns onto other websites. It also expressed concern that the changes could cause considerable problems for Facebook's revenue more generally, with its chief financial officer recently calling the update ""an area of concern", a "headwind" and "definitely something to watch".

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