With the launch of iOS 14.5 earlier this year, Apple rolled out its new App Tracking Transparency capability. This privacy feature is designed to give users the ability to opt out of being tracked across other apps and services, but a new report from the Financial Times today details how some companies are still sharing “user-level signals” from iPhone users.
On the surface, App Tracking Transparency is billed as a requirement for developers to request permission from users before tracking them across other apps and websites. When a user opens an app for the first time, they see a prompt asking if they want to give that application and its developer the ability to “track your activity across other companies’ apps and websites.”
While this prompt can easily be interrupted as meaning that apps aren’t collecting any data about the user, that’s not actually the case. Instead, it means the developer won’t share data collected with other companies.
Today’s report from the Financial Times goes slightly further, emphasizing that companies including Snap and Facebook “have been allowed to keep sharing user-level signals from iPhones, as long as that data is anonymized and aggregated rather than tied to specific user profiles.”
Snap and Facebook both point out that Apple’s guidelines say that companies can’t collect data for the purpose of “uniquely identifying it.”
These companies point out that Apple has told developers they “may not derive data from a device for the purpose of uniquely identifying it.” This means they can observe “signals” from an iPhone at a group level, enabling ads that can still be tailored to “cohorts” aligning with certain behavior but not associated with unique IDs.
The report goes on to say that this type of tracking is “becoming the norm” in the industry. Regardless, despite this new “aggregated and anonymized” data collection, both Facebook and Snap have said that they have financially been impacted by Apple’s App Tracking Transparency restrictions.
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