The introduction of iOS 14.5, the latest update to the iPhone operating system, offers the ability to block tracking of user behavior across platforms. Facebook dislikes the change but is applauded by digital rights advocates. Know what this modification means.

Apple introduced this week the most recent changes to iOS, the iPhone operating system, which this time corresponds to 14.5. Normally, when there is news around updates of this product is when the company introduces an entirely new version: when there is a jump from 12 to 13, from 13 to 14, and so on. Talking about a mid-way update is rarely the most common thing. And yet, in this case, it is more than necessary.

Apart from some updates on how Siri works and facial recognition more adapted to faces with masks, the fundamental change in this update has to do with privacy.

For some, this word, read in the context of digital life, seems like a luxury from a bygone era. The thing is not so well and the change that iOS 14.5 introduces at a time when personal data is understood as payment for free services returns a bit the balance of the equation in the hands of users: saying “no” is possible and it’s okay.

Simply put, Apple offers the option for iPhone users to choose whether or not an app can track their activity through other services and platforms. And this is an important change, mainly because it gives back power to consumers over the data generated by their interactions on the network.
The changes Apple makes in this update are neither miraculous nor will they fix user tracking or the use (and abuse) of personal information for commercial purposes, but “it is a solid step in the right direction,” according to Gennie Gebhart and Bennett. Cyphers of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, one of the largest digital rights advocacy organizations in the world.

How does all this work? The best way to understand it is with an example that has already become classic: when a user reviews a product on a certain platform, when entering another application it is possible that advertising related to that product appears.

This technique is known as targeted advertising and, for brands, it offers the possibility of delivering more relevant commercial information to the consumer; In other words, the promise for companies is to be able to find just the person who is looking for their product and to reach them with advertising.

A good part of the internet economy (since someone pays for everything that a user enjoys for free) is built on the possibility of personalizing and segmenting audiences to reach just the groups most likely to purchase with accurate commercial information, so fast as possible. In a way, it’s what keeps the Facebook machine going and devouring ad markets around the world.

Facebook has been one of the harshest critics of the change that Apple implemented, which was announced in the middle of last year and was supposed to go live at the end of 2020. The social network has gone against the measure under the speech that it hurts small businesses.

An interesting concern, so to speak, from a company that is being investigated for alleged monopoly practices and that has come under continuous criticism from legislators and civil society organizations for issues related to privacy and security for some years. personal information of its users.

Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, has stated that the modification introduced by Apple will not hit its business model. However, issues related to privacy and changes in iOS have been highlighted as a concern by Facebook’s financial head, Dave Wehner, according to media reports such as The Wall Street Journal or Wired magazine.

What does this change mean for users? In principle, they will see the same popup and the same question repeatedly: allow an application to track me or ask it not to. In other words, the user can decide, app by app, which one allows cross-platform tracking. And this, to begin with, delivers the granular control that privacy experts celebrate.

On the other hand, it also shows how many applications track user behavior, a result that can be as revealing as it is scary if you will.

Basically, when a user asks an application not to track him, Apple blocks the use of an identifier tied to the device (known as IDFA) that precisely allows the tracking of a user between platforms. And that same communication, the desire not to be tracked, is informed to the app in question.

This approach to the problem, the question, somewhat follows Steve Jobs’s vision around user information. In an interview in 2010, the late Apple founder said that “Privacy means that people know what they are targeting, in simple language. (…) And some people want to share more data than others: ask them, ask them every time ”.

In January of this year, Tim Cook, current CEO of Apple, emphasized the words of Jobs when saying that “if a company is built on confusing users, on the exploitation of data, on elections that are not elections, then no it deserves our admiration, it deserves to be reformed ”. And he defended Apple’s initiative with privacy (known as ATT) by saying that “it is about returning control to users, who can say how their data is handled.”

Apple’s initiative does not solve abuses around the tracking of network users. As Gebhart and Cyphers of EFF note, “it does nothing about the tracking that an application does on that same platform. The system can also generate a ‘notification fatigue’ if users get so used to the notification that they leave it without considering much what is the option they have ”.

The other problem with the change Apple is proposing is that it will shift some of the tension into unexplored territories. In other words, “a game of cat and mouse between those who track and those who seek to limit them”, as described by Gebhart and Cyphers.

But, at the end of the story, the change is more than welcome and a change of the status quo in the right direction: for a change, the user can say no, thank you.