The introduction of iOS 14.5, the latest update to the iPhone operating system, provides the ability to block user behavior tracking across platforms. Facebook hates the change but has been applauded by digital rights advocates. Know what this change means.
Apple this week introduced the most recent changes to iOS, the iPhone operating system, which this time matches 14.5. Normally, when there is news of updates to this product, it is when the company introduces a brand new version: when there is a jump from 12 to 13, from 13 to 14, and so on. Talking about an interim update is rarely the most common thing. And yet in this case it is more than necessary.
Aside from some updates on how Siri works and facial recognition more adapted to masked faces, the fundamental change in this update has to do with privacy.
To some, this word, read in the context of digital life, seems like a luxury from days gone by. The thing isn’t that good and the change iOS 14.5 introduces at a time when personal data is seen as payment for free services puts the balance of the equation back in the hands of users: saying “no” is possible and it is good.
Simply put, Apple allows iPhone users to choose whether or not an app can track their activity across other services and platforms. And this is a significant change, especially as it gives consumers back control of the data generated by their interactions on the network.
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The changes Apple is making in this update are neither miraculous nor will they fix user tracking or the use (and misuse) of personal information for commercial purposes, but “it’s a solid step in the right direction,” said Gennie Gebhart and Bennett. Cyphers of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, one of the largest digital rights advocates in the world.
How does all this work? The best way to understand it is with an example that has already become classic: when a user reviews a product on a particular platform, entering another application may show ads related to that product. This technique is known as targeted advertising and, with regard to brands, it offers the possibility to deliver more relevant commercial information to the consumer; In other words, the promise for businesses is that they can only find the person who is looking for their product and reach them with ads.
Much of the internet economy is based on the ability to personalize and segment audiences to reach as quickly as possible only the groups that are likely to buy with accurate commercial information. In a way, it keeps the Facebook machine running and devours ad markets around the world.
Facebook has been one of the harshest critics of the change Apple made, announced mid-way through last year and set to go live in late 2020. The social network has gone against the measure under the speech that it hurts small businesses. An interesting concern, so to speak, of a company that is being investigated for alleged monopoly practices and has been constantly criticized for years by legislators and civil society organizations on issues related to privacy and security. personal information of its users.
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Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has stated that the change introduced by Apple will not affect its business model. However, according to media reports such as The Wall Street Journal or Wired magazine, issues related to privacy and changes in iOS have been highlighted by Facebook’s financial head Dave Wehner.
What does this change mean for users? Basically, they will see the same popup and the same question over and over again: let an application follow me or don’t ask. In other words, the user can decide per app which cross-platform tracking is possible. And this, for starters, provides the granular scrutiny that privacy experts celebrate.
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On the other hand, it also shows how many applications track user behavior, a result that can be as revealing as it is scary if you like.
Basically, when a user asks an application not to track them, Apple blocks the use of an identifier associated with the device (known as IDFA) that allows a user to be tracked precisely across platforms. And that same communication, the desire not to be tracked, is communicated to the relevant app.
This approach to the problem, the question, somewhat follows Steve Jobs’s view of user information. In an interview in 2010, the late Apple founder said, “Privacy means people know what they are targeting, in plain language. (…) And some people want to share more data than others: ask them, ask them every time ”.
In January of this year, Tim Cook, Apple’s current CEO, emphasized Jobs’s words when he said that “if a company is built on confusing users, on exploiting data, on elections that are not elections, then it deserves it our admiration, it deserves to be reformed. ”And he defended Apple’s initiative with privacy (known as ATT), saying that“ the point is to give back control to users, who can say how their data is being processed. treated. ”
Apple’s initiative does not address network user tracking abuses. As Gebhart and Cyphers from EFF note: “It doesn’t affect the tracking that an application does on the same platform. The system can also generate a ‘notification fatigue’ if users get so used to the notification that they leave it without much thought about the options available to them ”.
The other problem with the change Apple is proposing is that it will shift some of the tension into unexplored areas. In other words, “a game of cat and mouse between those who follow them and those who try to limit them,” as described by Gebhart and Cyphers.
But at the end of the story, the change is more than welcome and a change of the status quo in the right direction: for the change, the user can say no thanks.