Apple will force apps to ask for OK before tracking users

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(Bloomberg) -- Apple Inc. will force iPhone apps to get permission from users before tracking them, dealing a potentially major blow to app developers who rely on advertisements to make money.

The change, announced at Apple’s virtual developer conference on Monday, is similar to a move the company made last year when it started sending notifications to users each time an app tried using their location.

Apple facilitates tracking on its phones by providing app developers with unique numbers for each user, something security advocates have long said contradicts the company’s frequent statements in support of privacy. The update to the iPhone’s operating system doesn’t do away with the tracking system, but makes it much more apparent to users and gives them more opportunities to turn it off. Previously, controls were buried in the phone’s settings menu.

“Considering the iPhone’s user base, this is a very big change. It certainly improves user privacy,” said Lukasz Olejnik, an independent privacy researcher and consultant. “Users at large encountering such pop-ups in just about any application may potentially start asking questions about the use of their data. It will force the industry to reconsider some of the core assumptions.”

In-app advertising generates billions of dollars every year. Tracking data built into apps also are used by ad tech companies to link phone users to their other devices, allowing ads to be shown to the same people on multiple screens, as well as to measure the effectiveness of those messages.

Apple has heralded itself as a champion of user privacy, especially compared with other tech giants that rely on advertising, Facebook Inc. and Alphabet Inc.’s Google. Apple started limiting tracking on its Safari web browser in 2017. Earlier this year, Google said it would do the same for its Chrome browser after a two-year consultation with the advertising industry.

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