Apple’s biggest mid cycle operating system update ever, iOS 14.5, is due to launch over the next few days, the iPhone maker has confirmed. The iOS 14.5 ugrade includes a barrage of cool new features, but the most outstanding by far is App Tracking Transparency (ATT)—and it will change your iPhone forever.
ATT has ruffled many feathers across the advertising industry because it effectively spells the end of the IDFA (identifier for advertisers), a unique device code that companies use to track your activity across iPhone apps and services. The iOS 14.5 privacy change hurts companies such as Facebook the most, and the social network has been protesting against ATT for months.
What exactly is ATT?
ATT is a feature that requires app makers to ask for your permission to track you across iPhone apps and services. In reality, that means after upgrading to iOS 14.5, you will see a pop-up box (see picture below), which reads: “Allow X to track your activity across other companies’ apps and websites?”
You can then choose “Ask App not to Track” or “Allow.”
In iOS 14.5, if you ask the app not to track, it will lose access to the IDFA, the unique device code I mentioned earlier. Apple has also stipulated that app makers must not track iPhone users in other ways using data such as email addresses.
Why has Facebook kicked up such a fuss about ATT?
Facebook has been very vocal in its opposition to ATT since the feature was delayed from the initial launch of iOS 14.5 last year. The social network even took out full page newspaper ads to criticize Apple’s privacy move, saying it would hurt small businesses the most.
It’s true the iOS 14.5 privacy change will impact small advertisers, but it is the likes of Facebook who will be impacted the most. Unlike Apple, whose business model is based around the hardware and services it sells, Facebook’s is based around advertising.
Access to the IDFA has helped data-hungry Facebook to demonstrate the effectiveness of ad campaigns. You might see an ad on Facebook, then Google the company’s website and make a purchase. If you allow iPhone IDFA tracking, this data can be collected and used to measure the success of ad campaigns to improve personalized ads.
Facebook says iOS 14.5’s ATT is being used by Apple to push its own business model for profit, at the expense of Facebook’s and others. Indeed, a recent Financial Times report detailed how the iPhone maker is due to dip its own toes back into mobile ads, via an expansion of its App Store ads business.
There is also the argument that Apple is trying to force app developers to charge more for things such as in app purchases and subscriptions, and the iPhone maker of course takes a cut.
What does ATT mean for me and my iPhone?
In reality, ATT is good for you and privacy on your iPhone. The reason? Transparency. Even if you choose to allow tracking, at least you have done so with the full knowledge that it is happening.
Apple’s iOS 14.5 is game-changing for mobile advertising more widely too. It’s thought Google’s Android will bring in something similar, which ultimately would see internet advertising changed, for the better, forever. So the implications of ATT are great for the privacy of iPhone users, and internet and smartphone users more broadly too.
Privacy experts approve of Apple’s iOS 14.5 move. Sean Wright, SME application security lead at Immersive Labs says ATT’s “a good move by Apple.”
As well as making things more transparent to users, he hopes it will force app developers “to seriously consider all the data they are attempting to collect, and if they really require it.”
How do I use ATT?
Once you’ve downloaded iOS 14.5, which is coming at some point during the next week, using ATT is easy. You simply wait for the pop up to appear in each app you use and allow, or don’t allow, tracking on a per app basis.
Another cool tip that you might find useful is, you can also go to your settings in iOS 14.5 and turn off tracking altogether. Just go to Settings > Privacy > Tracking > Allow Apps to Request to Track.
This will be automatically toggled to “on,” but you can toggle off the ability to track altogether here. That will stop a potentially annoying pop up appearing in each iOS app you open. You can also control the apps you have allowed to track here, if you want to turn them off, or enable them to track you.
Is there anything else I need to know?
The iOS 14.5 move is massive for iPhone privacy, but you need to be aware that apps do still collect your data. Apple’s privacy labels made that clear—they were a stark reminder that Facebook owned WhatsApp collects vast amounts of information and way more than its rivals.
There is a decision you make when you use free apps and services and that’s whether to give them your data. If you are not paying for the product, you are the product, after all.
At the same time, Apple does say ATT applies to its own apps, and we will hopefully see this in action in iOS 14.5.
Experts have pointed out that like Cookie notices, the pop up to allow tracking may get annoying, so it’s important not to just “Allow” in a bid to speed things up. If you don’t want tracking at all, you can toggle it off in the settings as I described.
Jake Moore, cybersecurity specialist at ESET says: “ATT should not be ignored and viewed as yet another pop up which gently forces you to agree and accept it. This is a perfect time to allow people to reflect on their personal data and what the large corporations are doing with it. Companies such as Facebook heavily rely on iPhone users to consent to data sharing and such intrusion shouldn’t be taken lightly.”
Should I turn iPhone IDFA tracking off for all apps?
IOS.14.5’s ATT really is an outstanding new feature and to track, or not to track, is the key question here. If you care about privacy on your iPhone, and you are uncomfortable about the data being collected about you online, ATT now gives you the means to turn that off. In iOS 14.5, the choice, as they say, is yours—and that’s the truly important thing.