Apple CEO Calls For Reform To 'Data Exploitation' Industry

The online ad industry has repeatedly called on Apple to abandon planned privacy settings that will require app developers to seek people's permission before tracking them.

On Thursday, Apple made clear it has no intention of doing so.

“Isn't it odd that some people don't want users to have the choice over whether or not they are tracked?” Apple's Senior Director For Privacy Jane Horvath said, during a video panel at the EU's Computers, Privacy and Data Protection conference.

CEO Tim Cook added that Apple views “privacy-centric features and innovations,” such as the new mobile settings, as a “core responsibility” of the company.

“If a business is built on misleading users, on data exploitation, on choices that are no choices at all, then it does not deserve our praise. It deserves reform,” he said. 

“Technology does not need vast troves of personal data, stitched together across dozens of websites and apps, in order to succeed,” Cook added. “Advertising existed and thrived for decades without it.”

Apple's upcoming privacy settings, announced last year, involve changes to a key feature of its mobile operating system -- the Identifier for Advertising. That identifier, a unique alphanumeric string, allows developers to track mobile users across different apps.

Currently, developers can access the identifier by default. But starting this year, Apple will require developers to ask users' permission before accessing the identifier.

The ad industry -- obviously afraid that consumers will decline to be tracked-- hasn't been shy about criticizing this plan. Last year, ad organizations sought an “urgent meeting” with Apple over the planned changes, while the Interactive Advertising Bureau France brought an antitrust complaint against the company in the EU.

Thursday, immediately after Cook's remarks, the self-regulatory group Network Advertising Initiative complained that Apple “has not engaged with the broader industry in a meaningful way to balance privacy protections and consumer benefits from ad-supported media.”

The organization stated: “There are hundreds of ad-tech companies bringing competition to the marketplace and innovation in consumer privacy.”

Facebook, which has spoken out more forcefully against Apple's plan than any other single company, claims in an ad campaign that Apple's new privacy settings will harm small businesses. Facebook also reportedly is mulling an antitrust lawsuit against Apple over some privacy-related changes.

This isn't the first time the ad industry has fought planned privacy changes. Years ago, when Mozilla first said Firefox would block third-party tracking cookies by default, the Interactive Advertising Bureau issued a sweeping condemnation of the initiative.

"The disruption will disenfranchise every single internet user," the head of the Interactive Advertising Bureau AB said IAB's Randall Rothenberg said back in 2013. "All of us will lose the freedom to choose our own online experiences; we will lose the opportunity to monitor and protect our privacy; and we will lose the chance to benefit from independent sites ... because thousands of small businesses that make up the diversity of content and services online will be forced to close their doors."

Firefox held off on the cookie-blocking plan for several years, but moved forward with the initiative in 2019.

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