The Apple iOS 14.5 update for your iPhone is expected to roll out anytime now, and the one standout feature among all that is new would be the much-awaited App Tracking Transparency feature. This privacy feature is designed to put an end to apps on your iPhone tracking your data and usage habits across other websites and apps and then tailoring their own offerings and advertisements accordingly. The simple idea is to prevent this tracking from happening without your consent. Apple CEO Tim Cook, in an interview with the Toronto Star, has made it clear that the situation is indeed “urgent”, and that Apple will step up to protect its users’ privacy online. Apple has been responding to criticism from social media network Facebook, which insists that giving users more tracking control will hurt small businesses which rely on online ads.

Speaking about privacy, Tim Cook said, “We feel that it’s a fundamental human right. And we know that there’s more information about you on your phone than there is in your house. You think about it, you search on your phone and so the information about what you’re thinking is on your phone. Your bank records, your health records, your conversations with friends and family, business colleagues — all of this information is on your phone,” before adding, “And so we feel a tremendous sense of responsibility to help users from a privacy and security point of view.” This is a fallout of how the digital advertising business is built, which relies heavily on collection personalized data and usage information about users before targeting them with personalized advertising. Till now, that has largely been happening on your phone without really much consent from your side or without the user having many controls to check who is tracking you across the width of the internet to snoop on what you are browsing or shopping for.

“The only reason why you would push back is if you believe you’ll get less data. The only reason you would get less data is because people are consciously deciding not to do it and were not being asked before,” is how Tim Cook sums up criticisms of the Apple App Tracking Transparency feature, which includes the likes of Procter & Gamble and Facebook, which has apps including the Facebook social media network and Instagram. He adds, “We’re not against digital advertising. I think digital advertising is going to thrive in any situation, because more and more time is spent online, less and less is spent on linear TV. And digital advertising will do well in any situation. The question is, do we allow the building of this detailed profile to exist without your consent?”

The way the App Tracking Transparency feature will work is that when you open an app on your iPhone, for the first time or after an update, you will be asked, “Allow XYZ to track your activity across other companies’ apps and websites?” The two options you will have at this stage would be “Ask App not to Track” or “Allow”. The App Tracking Transparency feature will be part of the Privacy menu in the Settings app. An iPhone user will now be able to choose whether they want to allow or deny an app from tracking their browsing and app usage trends. The idea is simple—disclosure and choice. You must notice two things here. First, Apple is not ending data tracking and secondly, Apple is not putting an end to personalized advertisements. Secondly, and simply put, Apple is ending the free run that apps and web platforms have had till now with tracking your usage habits without even a beg your pardon and will now make them ask you for explicit permission, before they can track you. Most brands fear that users will not allow themselves to be tracked, and that means less data for online advertising businesses to work with, something they’ve had in abundance, and without permission, for years.

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