Apple has started rolling out its new OS update, iOS 14.5 (and iPad OS 14.5) that provides a few vital upgrades and handy features --- including one that Facebook is stridently against.
The update has a new privacy feature, named “App Tracking Transparency," that requires permission for tracking. Basically, even existing apps already on the device will be required to ask and receive consent to track online activities.
Facebook's contention is that this will will hurt ad revenues.
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What the 'App Tracking Transparency' feature in iOS 14.5 will do
Apple had openly declared that it will clamp down on snoopy apps that stealthily shadow people on their iPhones to help sell more advertising.
The new update has an anti-tracking that should have come earlier. But the Apple-Facebook squabble kind of delayed it.
"App Tracking Transparency requires apps to get the user’s permission before tracking their data across apps or websites owned by other companies for advertising, or sharing their data with data brokers," Apple said in its rollout announcement (opens in new tab).
Apps can prompt users for permission, and in Settings, users will be able to see which apps have requested permission to track so they can make changes to their choice at any time, it added.
This is how it works: Go to your iPhone’s settings and select Privacy > Tracking.
Beneath “Allow Apps to Request to Track,” you’ll now see a list of specific apps that have asked for that permission. You can permit or revoke that permission for each specific app.
Hitherto, Facebook and other apps have been able to automatically conduct their surveillance on iPhones unless users took the time and trouble to go into their settings to prevent it, something many users were loath or lazy to attempt.
“Now is a good time to bring this out, both because of because of the increasing amount of data they have on their devices, and their sensitivity (about the privacy risks) is increasing, too," Erik Neuenschwander, Apple's chief privacy engineer, was quoted as saying in a chat with The Associated Press.
The Facebook-Apple war of words
Facebook had caviled at Apple's move, saying that it was designed to force apps to charge for their services instead of relying on ads. Apple takes a 15 per cent to 30 per cent cut on most payments processed through an iPhone app.
Facebook's protestations stem from the fact that it, along with many other apps, secrete information about users' interests and way so as to to tailor info and ads for them.
Facebook has been fuming about the change, which threatens the source of its $86 billion in annual revenue: targeted ads. The social network waged a months-long campaign against Apple, and testing pop-ups inside the Facebook app to encourage users to accept its tracking. It has also alleged that Apple's changes are designed to help the iPhone maker's own business, rather than protect consumer privacy.
"Apple may say that they're doing this to help people, but the moves clearly track their competitive interests," Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg had said in January.
But Apple had hit out at Facebook and others for prying into people's lives, and that it has created a societal crisis.
Apple's Tim Cook did not leave anyone in doubt about where the whole thing is going. In a recent interview to a podcast (opens in new tab), he said: “What we’re doing is giving the user the choice whether to be tracked or not. And I think it’s hard to argue against that.”
But with Apple sticking to its guns, it remains to be seen what Facebook and others now come up with.