Apple gave iPhone developers a stark warning about trying to secretly track users

Last year, Apple announced new privacy features that would eventually roll out in iOS 14. One of them arrived in late 2020, the app privacy labels that tell users which sort of personal data an app can collect. The feature doesn’t block developers from collecting data, it just forces them to disclose to their customers the kind of data their apps collect. Facebook reacted vehemently in December, taking out ads that painted Apple as a company that was working against small businesses and, thus, endangering the internet.

The second privacy feature that Apple announced is called app tracking transparency (ATT), and it’s even more serious. Apple will force developers to ask users for permission before being able to track them. Facebook voiced its concerns yet again, initiating another ad campaign that explains how personalized ads help small businesses. Facebook is practically begging users to allow the company to continue to track them. ATT will roll out in the upcoming iOS 14.5 update, and it seems likely that Facebook’s business will take a huge hit as a result.

Other developers from China might not have been as vocal as Facebook, but they’ve apparently been able to develop user-tracking features that sidestep the ATT prompts. Separately, Facebook is changing tune, saying that Apple’s new privacy might actually be helpful.

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Chinese companies including Baidu, ByteDance, and Tencent are preparing workarounds to ATT, the Financial Times reported (via South China Morning Post). The companies are supposedly using a CAID system developed by the China Advertising Association and a government think tank.

Apple responded to these claims, saying that the App Store rules apply to all app developers, including those in China. Other workarounds might include fingerprinting users, which involves tying device-specific information like the IMEI to the location.

”The App Store terms and guidelines apply equally to all developers around the world, including Apple,” Apple said in a statement. “We believe strongly that users should be asked for their permission before being tracked. Apps that are found to disregard the user’s choice will be rejected.” Apple also said that fingerprinting techniques violated its guidelines for over a decade.

Separately, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg addressed the upcoming ATT changes during an invite-only discussion on Clubhouse. He still claimed that Apple’s privacy feature will hurt small businesses but changed his tune to note that Facebook might be in a “good position” to deal with the change.

“The reality is is that I’m confident that we’re gonna be able to manage through that situation well, and we’ll be in a good position,” Zuckerberg said, according to CNET. “I think it’s possible that we may even be in a stronger position if Apple’s changes encourage more businesses to conduct commerce on our platforms.

Facebook doesn’t have to worry about tracking users across apps and services if small businesses decide to sell their products via Facebook and Instagram stores. In such cases, Facebook would still be able to collect e-commerce data related to what’s happening inside its own apps.

Former Facebook employees said a few days ago that this is the sort of scenario Facebook is preparing for, while explaining why Facebook’s claims that ATT harms small businesses are disingenuous.

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Chris Smith started writing about gadgets as a hobby, and before he knew it he was sharing his views on tech stuff with readers around the world. Whenever he’s not writing about gadgets he miserably fails to stay away from them, although he desperately tries. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

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