Apple backs more data transparency as it readies new privacy tool
Written by James Orme Wed 7 Apr 2021
The firm’s App Tracking Transparency tool, which will stop apps tracking users without permission, is expected to be publicly released this month
App users should have transparency and control over how their data is used, Apple’s head of privacy has said, as the tech giant prepares to roll out a major new privacy tool.
The firm is expected to launch its app tracking transparency (ATT) tool this month, which for the first time will require all app developers to ask users for their permission to track them and their activities on other apps and websites.
The new tool will allow users to edit the permission given to different apps at any point, and follows the publication of an online document, called A Day in the Life of your Data, which explains to the public how widespread data tracking is, through the story of a man taking his daughter to the park.
Jane Horvath, Apple’s chief privacy officer, told the PA news agency that the firm wanted to improve transparency and control for users when it came to their personal data.
“This is just part of the evolution of protecting our users, and the data that’s used for tracking is actually our customers’ data – it’s their data,” she said.
“So users should have transparency about how their data is used.
“They should have control over whether their data is used for tracking as well.”
Once rolled out in the coming weeks, ATT will show iPhone and iPad users a pop-up prompt asking if they would like to give permission for the app to track their activity outside of the app, data which is often then used for advertising purposes.
The prompt will include some text from the developer, where they are able to disclose why they would like the user to grant permission.
In response to suggestions that some developers and advertisers may feel their business model could be adversely affected by the feature, Ms Horvath said all Apple was pushing for was greater transparency.
“We’re not cutting anything off, we’re literally asking our developers to explain why they want to track and to get our users’ permission to track,” she said.
The Apple privacy boss highlighted that a similar tool to prevent wider tracking was added to the firm’s Safari web browser in 2017, but did not have an adverse effect on online advertising.
“I think we should go back to when we launched intelligent tracking prevention, and there the developers also said it was going to be the end of the world we know – it was going to kill the advertising ecosystem, and that actually hasn’t happened,” she said.
“So we do believe privacy-friendly advertising is possible, and we, in fact, do privacy-friendly advertising, we are not anti-advertising, our own Apple ad platforms does privacy-friendly advertising.”
Earlier this year, Apple chief executive Tim Cook said those seeking to profit from personal data were causing real damage to society and linked their rise to the spread of misinformation.
He argued that such endless tracking would eventually mean “you are no longer the customer, you’re the product”, adding that this was not an approach Apple agreed with.
The tech giant has also released a number of new privacy tools in recent months, including so-called nutrition labels for all apps in its App Stores – launched late last year – which require developers to show the data they collect from users and why.
“We embed privacy from the start of every product because we believe our customers have a fundamental right to privacy,” Ms Horvath said.
“So from the start of every product, there are privacy lawyers and privacy engineers helping to ensure that those particular products are built with privacy in mind,
“So it’s very much for laser focus on the customer and to realise the benefits of the devices we have to assure a level of privacy and security.”
Written by James Orme Wed 7 Apr 2021