Apple is supposed to track users and their behaviour without their consent – and is therefore likely to face court soon. We take the lawsuit as an opportunity to take a closer look at Apple tracking and see how it works.
The tech giant is using IDFA tracking identification to monitor iPhone and iPad users and their behaviour. According to Noyb founder Max Schrems, Apple is pursuing the goal of more targeted advertising.
Apple Tracking: How Does Apple Identify Us, Users?
The Identifier for Advertisers (IDFA) is an identification number for advertisers. Apple attributes them to every device.
“EU law protects us from tracking.” “The installation or reading of tracking codes is only possible with the consent of the user. This straightforward rule applies regardless of the tracking technology used.”
According to Rossetti, while Apple plans to block cookies even in its own Safari browser, the company itself places similar codes in its devices without any user consent. “This is a clear violation of EU data protection laws.”
Noyb has now lodged a complaint with the Berlin Commissioner for Data Protection and Freedom of Information and with the Spanish data protection authority AEPD.
According to the E-Privacy Regulation, user consent is mandatory for tracking methods such as those used by Apple. According to Rossetti, tracking must be the exception, not the rule. He demands: “The IDFA should not only be restricted but permanently deleted.”
What Is Behind The IDFA?
As mentioned, Apple tracking is based on IDFA. The company can record all user activities – both on the Internet and in applications from the App Store.
In this way, advertisers can find out which in-app events a user is carrying out and whether or with which advertising campaigns they are interacting, for example, by clicking on advertising banners.
Free apps, in particular, collect this data and sell it on to so-called data brokers. Data brokers are companies that trade in data. They collect personal data and provide access to companies from different industries.
A Norwegian study from early 2020, for example, shows that this is how Facebook collected data from dating apps like Tinder.
What Data Does Apple Collect When Tracking?
Apple explains in a blog post that its advertising platform is designed to protect our information and allow us to control what we share.
Therefore, advertising from the Apple advertising platform can be displayed to us in the App Store, in Apple News, and the stock app.
The company collects and uses the following data to display personalised advertising:
- Device Information: your set keyboard language, the device type, the operating system version, the mobile operator, and the connection type
- Device Location: If the system service for location-based Apple Ads is activated, your location information can be used to display advertisements that are relevant to your site.
- App Store Searches: Search results may show relevant ads based on the search query when you search the App Store.
- Apple News And Stocks App: Matching ads are selected based on the articles read.
The following information can also be used in the App Store, in Apple News, and the shares app:
- Account Information
- Downloads and Activities
- Activities in other apps
- Interactions with advertising provided by the Apple advertising platform
Who Has Access To The Apple Tracking Data?
As mentioned, Apple makes the data collected with the IDFA available to app developers, advertisers, and other data trading companies.
No identifiable person is linked to the IDFA. Nevertheless, many identifiable activities are connected to the ID over time, which helps advertisers to serve customised advertising.
According to Apple, tracking also includes sharing user locations with third parties. The IDFA can thus become a central point where different data points come together, and advertisers can get a comprehensive picture of the pseudonym.
What Makes Apple Tracking Different From Other Types Of Tracking?
In addition to Apple Tracking, Google, for example, uses the identifier GPS ADID (Anonymous Identifier For Advertising). The search engine wants to use this to replace cookies stored on a user’s end device.
This is similar to Apple’s, which is also currently being targeted by data-protection activists.
Noyb’s central argument is that Apple’s IDFA tracking is comparable to cookies. However, users must actively consent to cookies being allowed to collect data.
And that’s how it should be with Apple’s IDFA. “Our position is that these trackers shouldn’t be put on in the first place,” says Rossetti.
The difference to Apple Tracking is that users have to decide which data they share and which is not actively with cookies and the like. On the other hand, with Apple (and Google), users have had to deactivate tracking manually so far.
How Do I Disable Apple Tracking?
With the update to iOS 14, Apple originally wanted to ensure that advertisers first had to obtain user permission to access the IDFA.
However, after protests from Facebook and Co., the company postponed its plans to 2021. Developers should have more time to make necessary changes.
However, you can already disable Apple tracking manually. To do this, select “Privacy” in the settings. Click on “Tracking” and turn off the slider for “Allow apps to request tracking. ”
You can also scroll down under “Privacy, “click” Apple Ads,” and turn off the toggle for “Personalized Ads.”
By doing so, you limit Apple’s ability to show you personalised advertising. However, the company notes that this does not reduce the amount of advertising you receive.