Apple just confirmed a stunning new privacy move coming in an iOS 14 update that will be a game-changer for all iPhone users.
Itâ€™s been a long time coming. Apple first announced a stunning new privacy feature that would require all apps to ask for explicit permission to track in summer 2020. The feature, dubbedÂ App Tracking TransparencyÂ (ATT), was expected to launch when iOS 14 arrived in September last year, but itÂ was delayed after pushback from firms including Facebook.
But now, finally, Apple hasÂ confirmedÂ a date for the anti-tracking feature to arriveâ€”or at least a timescale. The iPhone maker chose Data Privacy Day (January 28) to announce that ATT will be coming to an iOS 14 update, in â€œearly springâ€� 2021.
The feature had beenÂ expected in Appleâ€™s iOS 14.4â€”indeed, it had appeared in the beta versions. However, when iOS 14.4 arrived this week, it instead included aÂ major security fix for three vulnerabilitiesÂ that had already been exploited. The urgent nature of this release, which might have pushed it forward, perhaps explains why the ATT feature was missing.Â
What exactly is the new privacy feature?
When you use apps on your phone, they may track you across other apps and websites in order to target you with advertising. This is currently done through something called the identifier for advertisers (IDFA), which tracks without revealing your personal information.
The aim of the new iPhone feature, Apple says, is to add transparency to this process. Now you know whatâ€™s happening, itâ€™s up to you to choose whether apps can track you.
In its announcement, Apple states: â€œApp Tracking Transparency will require apps to get the userâ€™s permission before tracking their data across apps or websites owned by other companies.Â
â€œUnder Settings, users will be able to see which apps have requested permission to track, and make changes as they see fit.â€�
In reality, this means an active opt in to the tracking on your iPhone and iPad. Youâ€™ll receive a pop up notification that reads: â€œx would like permission to track you across apps and websites owned by other companies. Your data will be used to deliver personalized ads to you.â€�
You will then be able to choose between â€œAllow Trackingâ€� or â€œAsk App Not To Track.â€�
Opting in to data collection, rather than having to opt out, is at the heart of data privacy regulation such as the EUâ€™sÂ GDPR. So Appleâ€™s new iPhone privacy feature really is the right thing to do by its users.Â
The feature builds on Appleâ€™s privacy labels, which allow people to see what data an app collects and how this is linked to you.Â
You can opt out of tracking now, via your iPhoneâ€™s privacy settings, which I have detailed in myÂ simple guide.
The backlash against Appleâ€™s ATT featureÂ
Facebook and others are worried that most iPhone users will opt out of the tracking. Google is also concerned. This week it announced that it wouldÂ stop using the IDFAÂ ahead of this upcoming Apple privacy change, to avoid the opt in popping up on peopleâ€™s iPhones.
Personally, I think Appleâ€™s approach to privacy is laudable, but a reduction of the information collected for advertising does mean apps and services will have to fund their businesses in other ways. We all need reminding sometimes that if we are not paying for the product, we are the product.
Are iPhone users happy to pay for apps instead, effectively paying for privacy? I would be happy to do so, but perhaps others wonâ€™t.