App tracking feature, and the feud between Apple and Facebook

Apple plans to launch its App Tracking Transparency feature early next year.   | Photo Credit: Reuters

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Apple has backed an App Tracking Transparency (ATT) feature, which it plans to launch early next year. The feature is said to make all app-based tracking an opt-in feature for users.

Facebook calls this anti-tracking feature an abuse of Apple’s market dominance to stifle competition. In response, the Cupertino-based company has slammed the social network over its app tracking and user data collection practices.

What is ATT and why it’s important?

The tracking feature that Apple plans to launch will let users know which apps are tracking them. Users can choose to disable ad-personalisation. They can also view the information used to deliver ads by selecting View Ad Targeting Information.

When users opt-in for personalised ads, Apple groups together users with similar characteristics like apps downloaded, age, country or city of residence, and gender, to ensure that an ad campaign can’t identify a single user. This way, no sensitive user data is taken for such grouping.


Apple also confirmed that it does not send or receive any data from third parties to create the segments it uses to target ads.

The company announced the anti-tracker in June 2020 at its worldwide developer's conference (WWDC). But, it delayed its launch to give developers time to update their systems and data practices.

With this feature, Apple plans to bring back the old advertising standard of privacy-focused ad networks in the place of the current practice of unrestricted data collection.

Apple pointed out that often companies use information collected separately by other companies, for targeted advertisements. This is done without an user's consent. The data collected across apps and websites are aggregated and sold by data brokers to unknown buyers.

ATT is said to solve this issue as developers will be able to explain why they want to track users. And users, on the other hand, will be free to make their own choice via the opt-in method.

Apple, Facebook feud

Apple accused the social media company of using detailed data about online browsing activity to target ads and to allow grouping of users into smaller segments.

"Facebook executives have made clear their intent is to collect as much data as possible across both first- and third-party products to develop and monetise detailed profiles of their users," Apple wrote in a letter to Human Rights Watch in November this year.


It added that Facebook is continuing to include more of its own products under this policy and ignores user privacy. It also questions others offering to provide personalised experiences.

"What some companies call personalised 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 said in the letter.

Other companies’ concern over ATT

Some other companies are against ATT as they feel that the policy will burden small businesses by restricting advertising options.

Apple counters this claim that the current data arms race primarily benefits big businesses with big data sets, and not the small ones. The Cupertino-based company clarified that they are not against advertising. However they believe that tracking should be transparent and under user control.

"ATT doesn’t ban the reasonable collection of user data for app functionality or even for advertising," Apple said in the letter.

The company also said that it does not access user data from their devices through their email, contacts and call history or other Apple services like Apple Pay, Maps, Siri, iMessage, and iCloud to serve ads in the App Store, Apple News, and Stocks.

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Printable version | Jan 25, 2022 2:24:13 AM |

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