Apple delays privacy feature that would let iPhone owners keep ad tracking at bay

Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

Apple is delaying a controversial new privacy feature it’s implementing with iOS 14 that will require developers ask users for permission to gather data and track them across mobile apps and websites on the iPhone and iPad, the company announced in a developer update posted Thursday.

Apple originally intended to put the feature live and start enforcing its requirements with iOS 14, slated for released sometime this fall, but the company is now giving developers more time to comply with the changes. Among the companies most concerned about the feature is Facebook, which said it would stop using the unique identifiers Apple intends to warn users about but expressed concern for third-party advertisers on its network that cannot afford to do the same.

“We are committed to ensuring users can choose whether or not they allow an app to track them. To give developers time to make necessary changes, apps will be required to obtain permission to track users starting early next year,” reads the developer note. Apple says developers can begin complying with the rule when iOS 14 launches if they choose, but it won’t require them do so until early 2021.

“We believe technology should protect users’ fundamental right to privacy, and that means giving users tools to understand which apps and websites may be sharing their data with other companies for advertising or advertising measurement purposes, as well as the tools to revoke permission for this tracking,” Apple said in a statement given to The Verge. “When enabled, a system prompt will give users the ability to allow or reject that tracking on an app-by-app basis. We want to give developers the time they need to make the necessary changes, and as a result, the requirement to use this tracking permission will go into effect early next year.”

Apple isn’t necessarily going to war with the digital and mobile ad industries, but the privacy feature is among the iPhone maker’s most aggressive developer policy changes it has introduced in recent memory. First revealed at this year’s WWDC in June, the new feature will show users a prompt when an app has requested their so-called Identification for Advertisers, or IDFA, code. Many users are expected to decline, and Facebook has said the feature may “severely impact” its ad network, according to a report from Bloomberg last week on the social network’s decision to stop collecting IDFA codes altogether.

The code is a unique identifier that helps advertisers track the effectiveness of ads across mobile apps, websites, email clients, and more. This is traditionally how advertisers know when you’ve, say, downloaded an iOS game from an app install ad within Facebook or when you’ve clicked on a product within Instagram that redirects you to an online web store. There are other complex methods and tools advertisers use to track you on the internet, but the IDFA is a generally industry-standard approach that’s useful across various ad types, devices, and platforms. Apple’s decision to place it behind an opt-in message may have substantial consequences for the advertising industry and how it makes use of mobile tracking.

Related to the opt-in feature is another new privacy policy Apple says developers will need to read up on in order to be compliant later this year. It’s a new list of privacy information that will be attached to App Store product listings that detail in depth how a given app collects and stores information across a series of domains, ranging from health and fitness data to location information to web browsing history.

“On each app’s product page, users can learn about some of the data types the app may collect, and whether that data is linked to them or used to track them. You’ll need to provide information about your app’s privacy practices, including the practices of third-party partners whose code you integrate into your app, in App Store Connect starting this fall,” reads a new page Apple published on its developer portal on Thursday.

The page details the types of data that a developer will have to disclose its collection methods for, as well as guidelines over how a developer communicates the way it uses that data. Developers will also be asked to identify whether “each data type is linked to a user’s account, device, or identity by you and/or your third-party partners.” There are also instructions around disclosures for tracking and privacy policies.


"We believe privacy is a human fundamental right"


Apple uses the "privacy" flag because it’s good for marketing. They are a hardware company so it makes sense. If they were an ad/services company, you wouldn’t hear about privacy.

That’s fine. It’s still important to me regardless of the motivation. There is a market for privacy. I’m glad somebody is filling it.

Yup. You can or cannot believe Apple but they really have no need for this information really their business model doesn’t rely on it so they will take this stance.

That’s where they are coming out with a new ad serving platform – to compete with ad/services companies like Google. I love Apple – but to think for a second this is ‘for the good of people’s privacy’ is inherently false. They are a business – and data is king when you want more sales information from your customers – which is what THIS is.

Opt-in for everyone else but opt-out for Apple.

If privacy is so important, why do they continue tracking everyone while keeping quiet about it?

They’re not? Its very apparent Apple also tracks, and its part of the iPhone set up process.

It’s very apparent everyone tracks. But I don’t get a popup telling me Apple is tracking me, I have to go dig into their settings and opt-out.

It’s been a while since I last setup an iPhone but I very clearly remember having to opt-out in settings after I set up my phone rather than during the set up process. If they have recently changed their process then I stand corrected.

Tracking you how?

They get the usual everyone else gets. The ad identifier which gets tracked all across the web, location, language, metadata about your device’s connection with your provider, etc. Considering they own the device and OS, they also know every app you download and how often you use them.

Their ads are a lot more limited, only in Apple News and the App Store. However, they most likely get as much data about you as Google and Facebook do.

So long as they’re not using my data to try and sell me stuff like Facebook and Google does. It’s not in their business interest to do so (not an ad company) and that’s all I care about.

They are doing something even worst, they are using this security excuse to restrict you from any choice. Would you rather have 1 supermarket store in your country, have your data taken for their own interest and have somehow the idea of security (*even if an illusion) or would you rather have 1000 supermarkets to choose from, know exactly what they are doing and know that when you step in your shopping data is sold to ad companies? I really dont like how apple hides everything, tells a few lies and tries to abuse of the market position for their global dominance… while locking you from choices for the sake of the 30% they earn, to force you 1 single store on iOS and not allowing you to side load any apps. But hey security is their marketing strategy, that-s why they advertise it. Who wouldn’t like to feel secure? even if it just the idea of it. right? We are talking about computers and internet *internet has your data stored on thousands of computers and iphones, macbooks, ipads all connect to the internet. How secure?

Apple does ask you about tracking in the setup process. When did you last setup a phone?

It’s been a while, 3-4 years now. I’m not looking to reset my iPhone to test, however articles online all say that Apple’s ad tracking is still opt-out. I’m not sure if posting links is against the rules so I won’t do it, but it’s a quick Google search away.

I set one up last month and there were questions IIRC.

There are two places about ad tracking and sharing analytic data under settings>privacy. If you cared that much about it you would have spent the 20 seconds it takes to find it. They ask you to opt in to these during setup and when they were introduced as an iOS update or phone upgrade. You were asked. Everyone was.
Don’t be so lazy.

Nice to see Apple adding this, ball will be in Google’s court afterwards.

I’d like it to go live with iOS 14 launch as well, however I have a feeling a ton of apps would just break (since so many rely on user monitoring one way or the other for monetization) – so this is probably a good idea (giving the devs a quarter to make things keep working as users start saying "Ummm, no.").

I have so many apps on my phone it’s gonna be a sea of nonononononononononononononono….

I’m exactly opposite. The only 3rd party apps I have are the streaming apps and kindle ebook reader.

Then convince the user to allow it. This is mostly about transparency. Heck, they could even require it for some functionality.

Life is better without the apps that this will break.

They won’t break, many will likely stop being free instead.

Meanwhile, Safari remains nearly unusable because of continual crashes across the entire iOS platform.

No issues here.

Unusable because if crashes? I can’t remember the last time ai saw a Safari crash. Maybe do an erase all site data under safari settings to try cleaning it out?

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