Last year, the Interactive Advertising Bureau France brought an antitrust complaint in the EU against Apple over its planned mobile privacy settings, which will only allow app developers to track iPhone and iPad users if they explicitly consent.
In the U.S., the ad industry hasn't gone that far yet, but has repeatedly criticized Apple over the upcoming settings. A group of ad organizations in August formed a new association, the Partnership for Responsible Addressable Media, with the express goal of persuading Apple to rethink its planned privacy settings.
Now, some mobile companies may be planning to take matters into their own hands by turning to device fingerprinting.
Fingerprinting, which involves tracking users based on the characteristics of their devices, has been around for years. And for years, it has been considered a particularly privacy-unfriendly technique -- largely because users don't have a practical way to control this type of tracking.
Apple prohibits developers from deploying device fingerprinting, but some are considering doing so anyway, according to a Financial Times report.
“100 percent, everyone will try doing fingerprints, whether Apple enforces their rules or not,” one developer reportedly said.
Of course, whether “everyone” will really attempt to ignore Apple's policies remains to be seen. Some developers might not want to risk getting banned by Apple, while others might be wary of the potential negative publicity that would result if their attempts at surreptitious tracking were discovered.
What's more, any company that turned to device fingerprinting to track iPhone users would be disregarding those users' explicit decision to avoid tracking.
After all, Apple's new privacy settings won't prevent tracking if users consent. On the contrary, the company plans to allow developers to access consumers' “ad identifiers” -- alphanumeric strings comparable to serial numbers, except that they can be reset -- if consumers agree.
If developers can't access those ad identifiers, it's because consumers explicitly said they didn't want to be tracked.
Any company that decides to circumvent that decision by using fingerprinting could have a hard time convincing anyone that it respects consumers' privacy choices.