Apple Confirms Plans To Roll Out Anti-Tracking Feature Next Year

Despite pushback from the ad industry, Apple says it plans to move forward early next year with new privacy settings that will require app developers to obtain users' consent before tracking for ad purposes.

In a letter to New America’s Open Technology Institute and other watchdogs, Apple said Thursday that it remains “fully committed” to its new settings.

“Tracking can be invasive, even creepy, and more often than not it takes place without meaningful user awareness or consent,” Apple said in the letter, posted on 9to5Mac.

“What some companies call 'personalized experiences' are often veiled attempts to gather as much data as possible about individuals, build extensive profiles on them, and then monetize those profiles," Apple wrote. "We are not against advertising, we simply think tracking should be transparent and under user control, which will engender user trust that will benefit all.”

The new setting, which Apple has dubbed “App Tracking Transparency,” will prohibit app developers from using the “identifier for advertising” -- an alphanumeric string that enable tracking across apps -- unless consumers consent on an app-by-app basis.

Apple announced the new setting in June, prompting vociferous complaints by the ad industry, which claims that asking consumers to opt in to tracking will deprive companies of revenue.

In September, a coalition of ad organizations demanded an “urgent meeting” with Apple over its plans.

The ad groups also formed a new organization, the Partnership for Responsible Addressable Media, with the express goal of persuading Apple to rethink its planned privacy settings. And in Europe, The Interactive Advertising Bureau France and other groups filed an antitrust complaint against Apple over the planned setting.

Apple said in September it would postpone the new setting, in order to give developers time to adjust to the planned change.

But the delay troubled advocacy groups like Amnesty International, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and New America’s Open Technology Institute, which blasted the postponement as “a great disappointment to the civil and human rights community.”

“Instead of backing down because the business models of other companies rely on nonconsensual data collection, Apple should stand up for its users’ right to privacy,” the watchdogs wrote to Apple last month.

In addition to telling the groups that it will activate the new setting, Apple said it shares their concerns “about users being tracked without their consent and the bundling and reselling of data by advertising networks and data brokers.”

The company added that it has taken steps to prevent tracking since 2005, when Safari began blocking third-party cookies by default. In 2017, Apple beefed up Safari's privacy settings with the launch of “Intelligent Tracking Prevention,” which aimed to close off a workaround some companies had developed to the default settings.

That change was also opposed by the ad industry, which described the move as “unilateral and heavy-handed,” and said it was “bad for consumer choice and bad for the ad-supported online content and services consumers love.”

Apple recalled that controversy in the letter it sent today.

“In 2017, as now, companies that benefitted from the status quo said our privacy-forward approach would 'sabotage the economic model for the Internet,'” Apple wrote. “That has not come to pass -- in fact, the internet advertising industry has seen revenue increases every year from 2010 to 2019, including the years following the release of Intelligent Tracking Prevention.”

Apple also noted it doesn't use or access the identifier for advertising “for any purpose.”

“Apple does not access user data from other Apple services like Apple Pay, Maps, Siri, iMessage, and iCloud to serve ads in the App Store, Apple News, and Stocks," the company added. "Nor does Apple use data from user devices through services and functions such as the Health app, HomeKit, email, contacts, or call history."

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