Sam Petherbridge

Apple Starting To Hit The Right Spot On User Privacy

Over the past few weeks since Apple’s World Wide Developer Conference (WWDC) keynote (love the 3 am start to watch live), much has been written about the new steps they are taking to protect privacy.

The discourse online over the past few years has been much the same, as digital marketers seek to find a new way to mitigate the impact of Apple’s new initiatives.

From a data and marketing side, the current tap is slowly losing pressure, from a privacy side, Apple is shining a light on the methods that some, including myself, would suggest are unscrupulous. To put this in context, what possible reason do analytics organisations have for sending information like battery, storage, memory and CPU usage, among the metrics that you might expect?1 or TikTok, LinkedIn and others have to keep looking at your phone’s clipboard?2

What has become clear is that some groups are not very happy with the recent changes, with many complaining that Apple is not adhering to the industry standard in enforcing every app to a seek permission to track users. With some saying the new pop-up warning and the limited ability to customise still carries “a high risk of user refusal.”3. Is this to say that some marketers are only interested in tracking the most possible users?

What is Apple doing

In June each year, Apple holds its developer conference, announcing the next iteration of software to run on your Apple device. In this, they revise many of the inbuilt APIs (application programming interfaces) to enable innovation to occur on their platforms. In some cases, they add APIs, in others, they change them, and sometimes they deprecate them.

The biggest change announced last month is that any app that seeks to track a user, either through their application or third party software development kit (SDK) in their application, will need to seek permission displaying a notification like the image. Though it is worth noting the user’s ability to limit ad tracking is not new, this is simply bringing it to the user’s attention.

Apple Tracking Dialogue

While many would argue that this change is solely to impact advertisers, I would disagree. From an Apple perspective, these changes are grounded in the culture and organisational values.

Marketers and advertisers are becoming challenged by the principles set down by Apple as an organisation. It is these principle which guide Apple in their relentless pursuit of delivering world-leading consumer experiences. A perspective often overlooked by marketers and advertisers who are oft prioritising user data over consumer centricity.

It is these principles of one of the world’s biggest companies that will continue to cause friction among marketers and advertisers. The next most important change is not going to come from Apple; their pursuit of upholding their own standards is set. The most important change will now come from the industry forced to do so, courtesy of Apple’s benchmark and share of the advertising space.

In making these changes, they are forcing developers to understand what third party libraries such as analytics libraries are doing with the information that they collect. They are forcing developers to correctly declare what information their apps collect, how it is used and shared or risk being kicked off the App Store4.

While this change is the driver behind most of the articles I have seen, it is worth noting that there are a number of other changes being made that may also impact the collecting of adverting data, both from the release of Apples next major software updates, likely September and in the next few years. In the next year, we are likely to see the ability for a user not to provide accurate location information and the further randomisation of device details when connecting to public wifi networks to be the most significant change. While the location changes will impact applications, it will not impact Telco’s from collecting this information using their towers.

Looking beyond this year, Apple has started to provide more support to technologies that make DNS queries private and are working with industry bodies to develop a standard of enabling the privacy of SNI data. Both of which represent opportunities for Telco’s and ISPs to track users.

Now I can hear many asking what DNS and SNI are. DNS or domain name system is like the phone book of the internet; it maps a domain like to an IP address like SNI or server name indication? In short, is the technology that allows servers to host multiple websites at a single IP address, without it we would not have been able to have the rate of growth we have seen on the internet5.

Though it is worth noting that Apple is not blind to the needs of advertisers and their own advertising revenue through App Store ads, in this release where they have added increased transparency for users, they have also added a new method to validate app install campaigns6.

The path forward

In my view, I feel that while there is still an opportunity to derive short term advantage in leveraging tracking on Apple devices. The opportunity for almost all organisations to derive sustained competitive advantage, which should be the ultimate goal of all business activities, through tracking on Apple devices is a thing of the past. This is not the first year, nor will it be the last that when one of the worlds largest companies puts the blow torch to advertiser data collecting in defence and promotion of user privacy. For those unsure still not convinced on this, I would encourage you to look at the amount of time Apple spends on this topic in the public presentations. It got just under 5% of their WWDC Keynote, which was arguably their biggest in years.

Looking to the future, there is a need to innovate our use of mobile platforms to foster consumer relationships, ideally in ways that competitors cannot easily replicate. Indeed as Apple and many organisations have said there is an opportunity for brands to build trust through better privacy7. While the easy path out would be to keep adjusting to Apple’s changes, I believe that those that can pivot to a privacy and data minimisation approach will see the return over the long term.

© 2011-2021 Sam Petherbridge