There has been a growing focus on privacy in social media and apps in recent years. In April, Apple introduced its App Tracking Transparency policy, which forces apps to ask permission before tracking users’ behavior to show them personalized ads. The decision caused Snap, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube to lose an estimated $9.85 billion in revenue in the second half of 2021 as their advertising businesses were shaken up by the new rules.
But a new report from the Financial Times claims that both Facebook and Snapchat circumvent the rules to continue collecting user data. According to AppleInsider, this hole is primarily a problem mainly because Apple does not enforce its own rules, neither for its own apps nor for others.
The report also points out that the wording of the rules allows for a loose interpretation, meaning that developers can decide for themselves how strictly they want to follow the rules. If they strictly follow the rules, they get fewer data from users, so there’s a pretty big incentive to stretch the rules as far as possible. And that’s exactly what Facebook and a number of other companies seem to be doing full force.
There’s a pretty big gray area here, a zone that the technology giants know how to exploit.
Companies like Meta (owner of Facebook) and Snap (owner of Snapchat) are collecting data that allows them to identify groups of users. The data cannot be linked to specific devices or users, but when linked, it can still reveal groups of users with similar preferences and habits and target ads to those users. Strictly speaking, this does not violate Apple’s rules if you interpret the rules to prohibit only the identification of the individual device or user, but at the same time prohibit the use of data that allows you to distinguish one device from another. Both Facebook and Snapchat themselves say they actively use such data to help advertisers get better data and optimize their ads.
However, it is not just the players who have apps on Apple’s platform who are guilty of this. Apple itself, as mentioned, has been criticized for not enforcing the rules, and AppleInsider even claims that Apple’s own apps are completely exempt from these regulations.
This means that even if you are among the 80 percent of iOS users who have said “no” to tracking, you can still be identified as group users and your user data can be used for advertising. However, that does not change how the rules are handled and applied today, and the companies themselves seem to think that they are not in violation of Apple’s rules. It’s also the exact opposite of what was promised when Apple launched iOS 14.5 and promised big improvements on the security front – including the new tracking transparency policy.