Given the choice, would any of us want to be followed online to see more relevant digital ads?
We are finding out.
On Monday, Apple plans to release iOS 14.5, one of the most anticipated software updates for the iPhone and iPad in years. It includes a new privacy tool, called Application Tracking Transparency, that could give us more control over how our data is shared.
Here’s how it works: When an app wants to track our activities to share information with third parties, such as advertisers, a window appears on our Apple devices. to ask us for permission to do so. If we say no, the app must stop tracking and sharing our data.
The pop-up might sound like a little design tweak, but it has left the online advertising industry in turmoil. Most notably, Facebook is on the right track. Last year, the social network created a website and posted full-page ads in newspapers claiming that Apple’s security features were harmful to small businesses.
One big driver, of course, is that privacy settings can hurt Facebook’s own business. If we choose not to let Facebook follow us, it will be difficult for the company to see what we are shopping for or doing inside of other apps, which will make it harder for brands to target us with ads. (Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook chief executive, has countered that his company’s business operations will be affected by Apple’s policy.)
“This is a huge step in the right direction, if only because it makes Facebook sweat,” said Gennie Gebhart, director at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital rights nonprofit.
But, she added, “One big question is, will it work?”
Gebhart and other privacy experts say Apple’s new feature may not be enough to end shady tracking on iPhones. She and others say it could simply motivate ad technology developers and companies to find loopholes so they can continue to follow people in different ways.
For about two months, I tested early versions of iOS 14.5 to get used to the new privacy controls and other new features. Only a handful of developers are testing the pop-up to the public, so my findings on how well security features work have been limited.
But I do find that iOS 14.5 also has other important new features. One is the ability to use Siri to work with a non-Apple Music player, such as Spotify. That’s a big deal: In the past, you could only ask Siri to play songs through Apple Music, so the voice assistant wasn’t useful for those who preferred other music services.
Here’s what you need to know about Apple’s new software.
Don’t follow me (Please)
It’s important to understand how to track activity inside an app.
Let’s say you use a shopping app to browse for a blender. You look at the Brand X blender, then close the app. Then ads for that blender started showing up in other mobile apps, like Facebook and Instagram.
Here’s what happened: The shopping app hired an ad technology company to embed trackers inside the app. Those followers have reviewed the information on your device to accurately identify you. When you open other apps that work with the same ad technology company, those apps can identify you and serve ads for Brand X’s blender.
Apple’s new security feature is intended to let you decide if you want that to happen. Now, when you open some apps, you will be greeted with a pop-up: “Allow [App Name] To track your activity on apps and websites of other companies? You can select either “Require the app to not track” or “Allow”.
When we choose “Require apps not to track”, two things happen. The first is that Apple disables an app that uses an Apple device identifier, a random string of characters and numbers assigned to our iPhones and used to track our activities across apps. application and website. Second, we inform the app developer that, broadly, we don’t want our information to be tracked and shared with anyone in any way.
That seems easy enough. But number 2 is where things get a little more complicated as well.
Ad technology companies have had many ways to track us in addition to Apple’s device identifiers. For example, advertisers might use a method called fingerprinting. This involves looking at the seemingly harmless features of your device – like screen resolution, operating system version, and model – and combining them to identify you and follow follow you on different apps.
Privacy researchers said it was difficult for Apple to block all tracking and fingerprinting activities on the iPhone. That requires you to know about or predict every new tracking method that an ad technology company offers.
Mike Audi, founder of Tiki, said: “From a technical standpoint, there isn’t much that you can do” to prevent such tracking, an app that can help you see other apps that are on the way. What to do with your data.
The privacy change is still important, however, as it requires our explicit consent. If we tell apps that we don’t want to be tracked and they continue to do so, Apple may ban offenders from its App Store.
Stephanie Nguyen, a scientist who studies user experience design and data privacy, says pop-ups also make it much easier for people to explore privacy controls. Previously, iPhone owners could restrict advertisers from spying on them, but the tools for doing so are buried in settings that most people wouldn’t look at.
“The option was there before, but really, isn’t it?” Ms. Nguyen said. “It’s a big change – make it visible.”
As of this week, all apps with tracking behavior must include the Application Tracking Transparency pop-up in their subsequent software updates. That means we’ll likely see a small number of apps initially ask for permission to follow us, with an increasing number increasing over time as more apps get updated.
Apple’s new software also includes two other cool new features: the ability to use Siri to play audio with third-party apps like Spotify and the option to quickly unlock the iPhone while wearing a mask.
For many, they will feel too long overdue. Siri has typically only been working with Apple Music for music playback since 2015, which is bothersome and inconvenient for those who want to use the voice assistant to play songs using other music apps. This change comes as antitrust scrutiny increases over whether or not Apple will stifle competition by prioritizing its own apps.
To make Siri work with other audio services, you won’t have to change any settings. If you normally listen to music using a third-party app, such as Spotify, Siri will simply learn from time to time that you like the app and react accordingly. (Audio app developers need to program their apps to support Siri, so if they haven’t already, this won’t work.) That means if you’re always using Spotify to play the music, you will be able to say “Hey Siri, play The Beatles” to start playing the Beatles playlist on Spotify.
Another new feature to help solve the pandemic problem. For over a year, wearing a mask has further annoyed owners of newer iPhones that have a face scanner to unlock the device. That’s because the iPhone’s camera can’t recognize our covered mugs. Apple’s iOS 14.5 finally offers a mechanism to unlock the phone while wearing a mask, although it does require an Apple Watch to be worn.
Here’s how it works: When you scan your face and the phone determines that it can’t recognize you because your mouth and nose are obscured, it checks to see if your Apple Watch is unlocked. and nearby. In fact, the Apple Watch acts as proof to verify that you’re the one trying to unlock your phone.
To do this, update the software on your iPhone and Apple Watch, then open the Settings app on your iPhone. Scroll down to “Face ID & Passcode.” In this menu, go to “Unlock with Apple Watch” and turn on the option to use your Apple Watch to unlock when the image scanner detects your face with a mask.
The next time you’re at the grocery store and looking at your phone, the watch will vibrate once and unlock your phone. Sweet relief.