Some apps keep tracking iOS users without permission

According to Financial Times, Apple is expected to tighten its tracking transparency rules after some apps have managed to use workarounds to identify users without their consent.

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There transparency of tracking Effective with iOS 14.5 and iPadOS 14.5 requires apps to receive explicit consent from users in order to track them for advertising purposes.

According to Eric Seufert, a well-known marketing strategy consultant, many apps use alternative methods to identify users that do not consent to be tracked, which means that the amount of data collected by many apps is virtually unchanged: “Anyone who gives up tracking right now is basically sharing the same level of data as before. Apple is not discouraging the behavior they have called so reprehensible, so they are somewhat complicit in what is happening.“.

According to an email unearthed by the Financial Times, an app provider claimed to be managed to collect data on over 95% of its iOS users, using device and network information such as IP addresses to determine their identity. This technique, known as “fingerprinting”, is prohibited by Apple.

Some adtech groups used by thousands of developers believe that “probabilistic” methods of user identification, which group users based on behavior, are allowed by Apple’s rules because they rely on temporary aggregate data rather than creating unique IDs or permanent.

The situation regarding workarounds and Apple’s lack of enforcement has created confusion as to what the iOS 14.5 rules actually allow for. Apple released this statement to the Financial Times:

We strongly believe that users should be asked for their permission before being tracked. Apps that disregard the user’s choice will be rejected.

Apple hasn’t commented on the distinction between fingerprinting and “probabilistic matching,” but some industry observers think the problem is serious enough to put Apple at risk of legal trouble. Alex Austin, Branch’s chief executive, said: “It is becoming clear that iOS 14 was much more of a marketing promotion than a real privacy initiative, sadly“.

Apple suggested that the ability of third-party apps to track users is blocked when the same users ask them to block all tracking, but otherwise Apple could be subject to litigation for false advertising related to the protection of privacy, just as happened to Google in the past.

Seufert believes Apple will most likely shed some light on the matter soon, probably as early as WWDC 2021 tonight.

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