Information still seems to be scant regarding the implications, extent or timing of Apple’s new “Limited Ad Tracking” feature in iOS 6. As we reported here last week, the upcoming OS update has buried deep within its Settings menu an “Advertising” section in which the user can toggle on “Limited Ad Tracking.”
The feature is explained in a small text link on the page and is worth re-quoting.
“Ad Tracking: iOS 6 introduces the Advertising Identifier, a non-permanent, non-personal, device identifier, that advertising networks will use to give you more control over advertiser's ability to use tracking methods. If you choose to limit ad tracking, advertising networks using the Advertising Identifier may no longer gather information to serve you targeted ads. In the future all advertising networks will be required to use the Advertising Identifier. However, until advertising networks transition to using the advertising Identifier you may still receive targeted ads from other networks.”
I wondered aloud last week what exactly “limited” means in Apple’s explanation. Krishna Subramanian, Velti’s CMO, tells me: “Limited advertising purposes that are still enabled even when a user turns on the flag include: frequency capping, conversion events, estimating the number of unique users, security and fraud detection, debugging, and other uses that may be permitted by Apple in Documentation for the Ad Support APIs.”
So “limited” tracking is not quite the track blocker the toggle may imply to most consumers.
Does it matter anyway? One must wonder. First, Apple really did bury that toggle. I had to go several tiers down before I found it. Second, what people say they do about their own data security and what they do may be two very different things.
In a Pew study from earlier this month, surveys of cell phone users would lead one to believe that people are policing their data habitually. Pew surveyed people across age groups on what they have done on their phones.
Cleared browsing or search history
Turned off location tracking feature
One has to interpret these responses and what they mean to the respondent. I am surprised and a bit skeptical about who has cleared their browser or search history on a phone. I would dare most people to find that option on their devices, let alone demonstrate that they have bothered using it. The location services option seems to me more reasonable, if only because the opportunity to turn it off in apps is presented at first open. I presume that most people interpreted that question loosely and applied it to denying LBS access to an app.
Regardless, I am not convinced that in the end this ad-tracking option will make much difference to the ecosystem. The increasingly visible Ad Choices icons on Web ads have extremely low opt-out rates. Subramanian says, “we expect very minimal opting out from end consumers similar to the less than 7% of all online consumers who opt out of behavioral targeting.”