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Apple's New Privacy Feature - Why is it such a big deal?

Apple's latest iOS 14.5 update is now available to download. The update is available on all iOS 14 supported devices, these models include iPhone 6S, 6S Plus, and SE right up to the latest iPhone 12 Pro Max. This particular update includes the most amount of changes and features since the initial launch of iOS 14.

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Apple’s iOS 14 has seen them build on the privacy features it introduced in 2019 with iOS 13. Apple has also built on its privacy labels, by revealing how much data apps collect about you. The iOS 14 privacy labels revealed how some apps don’t collect any iOS data, while apps such as Facebook collects a huge amount of data.

Apple says with its new privacy move, it is hoping to stop bad data collection practices and tell users who they share data with and for what purposes. This is to provide additional clarity on app and website tracking before they ask permission.

The latest update introduces a new privacy feature named App Tracking Transparency. This could possibly spell the end of the identifier for advertisers (IDFA), a method used by apps to track you across apps and services. In the new iOS 14.5 update, App Tracking Transparency introduces the requirement for apps to ask you if they want to track you across services.

Following Apple's first announcement of the new feature last summer, App Tracking Transparency resulted in immediate pushback from the wider advertising industry. Initially slated for release in the autumn, Apple delayed its implementation for a whole six months to give the industry time to prepare.

Following the update to iOS 14.5, iPhone users for the first time will be presented with a pop-up box when opening an app that reads "Allow X App to track your activity across other companies' apps and websites?" alongside two options which include "Ask app not to track" or "Allow".

If they choose not to allow an app to track them, the developer will lose access to the IDFA. A signal is also sent from the app to the developer that the user has opted out of being tracked in other ways, such as using their email address. The user will still be able to use the app’s full list of features without having to accept tracking.

Apple's New Privacy Feature - Why is it such a big deal? | Silverchip

The developers may be able to use other methods, known as “fingerprinting”, to achieve the same goal. Apple says that doing this could cause them to be expelled from the App Store. Apple also says if you ask an app not to track and it continues to track you anyway, the developer again risks being removed from the App Store.

Those users with iOS 14.5 installed, will be able to use the new feature from one central place in the iPhone settings which will cover all apps. The default setting will be “allow apps to request to track,” however, if you switch off the function, no app can request to track you (and your default choice setting will change to “do not allow” across all apps). You can also manage apps that have requested to track you in here and remove or add their ability to do so if you wish.

You may not know it, however, you are constantly tracked as you use apps and services - A typical app averages six trackers. Alongside this, the data collected about you can be collected and sold online without your knowledge. Scary right?

By highlighting the transparency feature, it is set to particularly affect services like Facebook, which shares your data with businesses to allow for personalised adverts. As expected, Facebook has already begun challenging the new feature, claiming that it will hurt small businesses.

Apple has developed privacy-preserving ad technology to replace the IDFA through Private Click Measurement, which shows the impact of ads leading users to websites without linking back to them, and its SKAdNetwork which tells the developer how many times a user has installed an app after seeing an ad for it.

At a time of mass data collection across the 'free' services we use, features such as App Tracking Transparency are welcome across the technology industry. Privacy is about the choice of the individual, not a business deciding for the individual, particularly without the consent from the user.

Alongside the much-awaited privacy features, iOS 14.5 enables iPhone users to unlock their phone with their Apple Watch if they are wearing a face mask and supports Apple’s lost-key-tracking device Air Tag.