Hey Siri, Who’s Tracking Me?

J.P. Scott
Nov 28, 2020 · 3 min read
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Photo by Glen Carrie on Unsplash

Apple held the Worldwide Developers Conference virtually this year. Among changes to macOS, iPadOS, and iOS — they devoted a portion of the presentation to discuss App Store policy changes regarding privacy. Apple’s Craig Federighi broke the changes down into four segments:

  • Data Minimization
  • On-Device Intelligence
  • Security Protections
  • Transparency and Control

To summarize: Apple will process as much of your data as possible on-device to avoid having it collected by third parties and give the user control of whether an app can track you or not. The company also announced plans to require all developers on the App Store to provide a nutrition style label containing the data collection and services their app will use.

Safari’s Ad-Tracking Breakdown
Safari’s Ad-Tracking Breakdown
Image provided by author.

In a world where targeted advertising is both invasive and normalized, these features, referred to as App Tracking Transparency (ATT), are a welcome addition. For most, anyway.

Facebook has criticized the App Tracking Transparency feature and said it could cause ad revenue to drop as much as 40%.

To the dismay of many, following the criticism from Facebook, Apple delayed ATT’s release until early 2021. Apple’s official reasoning is to give developers time to update their business models.

A year with multiple anti-trust hearings surrounding big tech with issues such as censorship, data collection, and anti-competitive business practices, delaying ATT left more than just consumers with concern. In October, Apple received an open letter from a civil and human rights coalition expressing their concerns over the delay. Apple’s Jane C. Horvath responded and reaffirmed Apple’s stance to move forward with ATT. The company also lobbed a few accusations toward Facebook, stating that the company “collects as much data as possible and monetizes detailed profiles of their users.”

Apple will move forward with the App Store “nutrition label” policy on December 8th, with ATT to follow in early 2021.

So, what’s next for Apple?

In October, a lawsuit was filed against Google, claiming that the companies dealings with Apple, amongst other companies, to have their search engine as the default option is anti-competitive. Between the lawsuit and the fact that (roughly) 71% of Google’s revenue comes from ads, it may not be a coincidence that Apple is reportedly working on their own search engine.

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Photo by Medhat Dawoud on Unsplash

In 2018 Apple made two big moves that will have long-term yields. First, they poached John Giannandrea from Google. Giannandrea was Google’s head of search and artificial intelligence. Second, Apple acquired an AI startup called Silk. The company specialized in AI that can process data on-device, bypassing third-party data collection.

Apple’s privacy policies would benefit from an Apple Search. The prospect of what Siri could be capable of with a secure search engine and advanced on-device data processing is enticing. Despite Apple’s walled garden approach, these changes give the user choice — and that has me optimistic to see what comes next.

Mac O’Clock

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