Apple’s new prompt for when apps want to track user activity appears in iOS 14.4 beta

Apple’s focus on privacy and user security continues to evolve, and sometimes that butts heads with other major companies out there. For instance, the companies who have built their business on gathering as much data as possible might not be happy with Apple’s upcoming privacy-focused feature in iOS 14, which allows users to set limits on which apps can track them across other services and apps.

We already know that Facebook, one of the world’s largest social networks, is not happy with Apple’s upcoming addition to its mobile operating system. The new feature will be present in iOS 14, iPadOS 14, and tvOS 14. Apple initially delayed the feature, as it was supposed to launch with the arrival of iOS 14 earlier this year. However, it appears it’s about ready to launch as prompts related to the privacy-focused feature are popping up in the latest beta of iOS 14.4 (per MacRumors).

Here’s how Apple describes this new feature to developers:

With iOS 14, iPadOS 14, and tvOS 14, you will need to receive the user’s permission through the AppTrackingTransparency framework to track them or access their device’s advertising identifier. Tracking refers to the act of linking user or device data collected from your app with user or device data collected from other companies’ apps, websites, or offline properties for targeted advertising or advertising measurement purposes. Tracking also refers to sharing user or device data with data brokers.

Apple also provides some bullet points for what is defined as tracking, but adds there are other examples out there and this is not the complete list:

  • Displaying targeted advertisements in your app based on user data collected from apps and websites owned by other companies.
  • Sharing device location data or email lists with a data broker.
  • Sharing a list of emails, advertising IDs, or other IDs with a third-party advertising network that uses that information to retarget those users in other developers’ apps or to find similar users.
  • Placing a third-party SDK in your app that combines user data from your app with user data from other developers’ apps to target advertising or measure advertising efficiency, even if you don’t use the SDK for these purposes. For example, using an analytics SDK that repurposes the data it collects from your app to enable targeted advertising in other developers’ apps.

In this case, as you can see from the image just below, the official NBA app is requesting that the user allow it to track their information. The pop-up reads, “Allow ‘NBA’ to track your activity across other companies’ apps and websites?” And, below that in the fine print, the prompt adds, “Your data will be used to provide you a better and personalized ad experience”.

The two options that users will get to choose from include:

  • Ask App not to Track
  • Allow

Apple has already confirmed that the new app tracking element in iOS 14 will arrive some time in early 2021. With Apple only now seeding the first beta of iOS 14.4 to developers and public beta testers this month, it’s possible we’ll see the public launch of the software in late January or early February.

Facebook’s not happy

iOS is popular, and one of the reasons it is is because of the privacy and user security that Apple trumpets. However, some companies, like Facebook, think Apple is taking things a bit too far with its latest addition to the mobile OS. Back in September, before Apple confirmed the delay for this feature, it was rumored that the company was waiting to launch it because it was kowtowing to Facebook and other publisher’s demands.

Some publishers said they would lose a significant amount of revenue if Apple’s new feature arrived and they didn’t have time to make any adjustments. That includes Facebook, which, even with the delay, continues to beat the drum that Apple is “harming small businesses” with its latest privacy push.

Now, since then, Apple’s Senior Director of Global Privacy Jane Horvath said that the delay had nothing to do with any demands, but rather to give publishers and developers more time to adjust to the new feature. As Horvath said earlier this year:

We delayed the release of ATT to early next year to give developers the time they indicated they needed to properly update their systems and data practices, but we remain fully committed to ATT and to our expansive approach to privacy protections. We developed ATT for a single reason: because we share your concerns about users being tracked without their consent and the bundling and reselling of data by advertising networks and data brokers.

That wasn’t enough, though. On December 16, Facebook slammed Apple’s anti-tracking feature with full-page advertisements in newspapers in the United States. Facebook said it is “standing up for small businesses everywhere”. And then the social network went on to publish other ads, saying Apple is against the “free internet”, and wants to go as far as to stop the internet from being free altogether.

Apple’s CEO, Tim Cook, tweeted out the following in response to Facebook’s ads, which included a template for the privacy-focused app tracking prompt:

As Cook notes, Facebook’s tactics to track every user as much as it can will still be possible: it will simply have to ask for the user’s permission to do so from now on (once iOS 14.4 launches).

Well, it looks like the wait for this particular feature is almost over. Are you going to give Facebook (and other apps) permission to keep tracking you — if you still have the app installed, of course.