Apple’s game-changing new privacy move is great for users and bad for data collectors such as Facebook. And it could spark a serious new problem, according to reports.
After Apple announced iOS 14 last year, firms including Facebook were up in arms. Their issue—a game-changing new iPhone privacy feature which would essentially signal the end of the so-called identifier for advertisers (IDFA).
So much was the resistance to Apple’s new anti-tracking feature that the iPhone maker delayed it when it launched the rest of iOS 14 in September, to give developers more time to adjust.
But the feature is still on its way in an upcoming update of iOS 14, and it could mean app developers find new ways of tracking you, despite the fact it could get them thrown out of Apple’s iPhone App Store.
Developers say they will try to circumvent the iOS 14 privacy change
The confirmation comes after an article in Ars Technica, which quotes several app developers who say they will try to circumvent the iOS 14 privacy change. Device fingerprinting—which correlates factors such as a device’s operating system, browser version and type, language and IP address to identify it—is one method being considered, a mobile games developer told the site.
This goes against Apple’s guidelines, which state in answer to the question “Can I fingerprint or use signals from the device to try to identify the device or user?”:
“No. Per the Developer program License Agreement, you may not derive data from a device for the purpose of uniquely identifying it.”
Worryingly, the article states that some developers plan to use methods such as this even if Apple users deny access to the IDFA.
It comes as Facebook finally yielded to Apple’s anti-tracking changes, saying people have no choice but to follow the new rules. Facebook placed full size adverts in several newspapers last year criticising the iPhone maker.
Apple app developers—”between a rock and a hard place”
In some ways, it’s understandable that developers are desperately looking for new ways to recoup lost revenue in the lucrative iPhone advertising market. “App developers are stuck between a rock and a hard place,” says Jake Moore, cybersecurity specialist at ESET.
“They need to make an app functional and secure and yet there is always a major push to make such apps track. IDFA tracking without explicit user consent has been the backbone of modern-day advertising and is worth billions of dollars so when privacy updates are instructed by Apple, it is inevitable that some developers will seek to avoid these new measures.”
Sean Wright, application security SME lead at Immersive Labs says because developers rely on advertising as a means of generating revenue from their applications, it’s no surprise the proposed changes from Apple “aren’t too popular.”
What Apple users should do
Bad practices such as fingerprinting are against Apple’s App Store rules, but Wright says it’s important how the iPhone maker enforces this. “It’s a question if this will be something they can enforce via technical controls or instead rely on users reporting violations.”
So what does this mean for iPhone users? Wright says the best way to avoid device fingerprinting is to have similar settings to other users, so it’s hard to identify your device. Of course, this isn’t easy to do, so Wright also advises Apple users to look to paid alternatives instead, “since they would not tend to rely on advertising for revenue.”
As Apple’s anti-tracking changes draw near, iPhone need to be prepared. One thing you can do now is use my guide to turning off the ability for apps to track in your settings. More generally, make sure you trust the developers who make your apps. Use the app privacy labels and manage your permissions carefully.
In the meantime, why not have an app clean up on your iPhone, deleting anything you don’t use. When you download new apps, paid for services may be safer. After all, nothing is ever truly free.