apple,  bytedance,  facebook,  privacy,  tencent

The Fight Over Asking Permission

In a recent article posted on titled “TikTok wants to keep tracking iPhone users with state-backed workaround”, I got the feeling that we tech nerds are going to be in for another Apple vs Developer showdown.

Last summer, you may recall that things got a little dicey for the iPhone maker with the Hey blow up just before last year’s WWDC developers conference. The situation between Apple and Basecamp, the developer of the subscription-based Hey email service, generated backlash from the iOS developer community as well as attracting unwanted attention from U.S. law makers.

The Ars Technica piece reports on the China Advertising Association’s efforts to develop a method for working around Apple’s new iOS and iPadOS 14 feature that requires developers to ask permission before tracking users across third-party developer apps and third-party websites with trackers built in. According to Apple, the App Tracking Transparency framework is mandatory “if your app collects data about end users and shares it with other companies for purposes of tracking across apps and web sites”.

That’s it. That’s the whole thing. Apple wants app developers to ask for iPhone and iPad user’s permission before slurping up as much user data as possible. The sad reality is that many people will simply allow the tracking just to dismiss the message and get to their social media apps. The path of least resistance often wins.

The one passage that caused me to raise an eyebrow was the quote from an Apple spokesperson:

“The App Store terms and guidelines apply equally to all developers around the world, including Apple,” the company said. “We believe strongly that users should be asked for their permission before being tracked. Apps that are found to disregard the user’s choice will be rejected.”

During last year’s congressional hearings about the power held by “big tech”, I recall Apple CEO Tim Cook saying that all developers are held to the same App Store standards. Apple included. Most of the time that is true, but we all know, in business, there is plenty of wiggle room for deals between large companies. In my opinion, the App Store Small Business Program and the reduction of the commission rate to 15% is a direct result of Apple trying to appease developers, law makers, and other state and local officials. So, a statement from Apple saying App Store guidelines apply equally to all developers seems to be true, from a certain point of view.

The App Tracking Transparency framework will become enforced later this spring with the release of iOS and iPadOS 14.5, which is currently in beta testing.

Personally, I am looking forward to having the additional controls that come with the App Tracking Transparency framework. It will be interesting to see how conflicts with large platform developers like Facebook, ByteDance and Tencent is resolved.