Thoughts about tech, programming, and more.

iOS 14.5 is more than just a software update

As you may have heard, Apple just released a new update for iPhone and iPad, iOS 14.5. What makes this release more notable than most is that it includes a new feature called App Tracking Transparency.

App Tracking Transparency requires an app to request permission from you in order to track your activity on your device. This results in two significant changes: 1) It gives power back to the individual to actually have a choice about their privacy. 2) It exposes how much tracking is taking place.

This deals a direct blow to companies like Facebook and Google whose entire businesses are built around targeted advertising. For these companies, the more data they can collect on you, the more accurate their ad targeting becomes. And they really don’t want you knowing how much data they collect.

Facebook has unsurprisingly been opposed to this feature, stating that it’s bad for small businesses. But let’s be honest here – do we really believe that Facebook all of sudden cares about small businesses and the individuals who run them? We’re talking about the company that pioneered the technological mass manipulation of billions of humans and the company that engineers their products with no regard for how it affects individuals or society as long as it improves the bottom line. The company that knowingly inflated video analytics data, causing small businesses to think their ads were doing better than they actually were.

Yeah, I don’t buy it and I’m sure neither do you.

They don’t like this new privacy-protecting feature because they’re in the business of infringing on your privacy. They don’t like it because it’s bad for Facebook.

It’s evident that Facebook knows that, if given the choice, people will always choose not to be tracked. They know that people simply don’t want big tech (or anyone for that matter) spying on them. But they don’t care.

Facebook relies on being able to track people without having a choice. Some may say, “Well, Facebook users make their choice when they use the app.” True – and many people are leaving Facebook, WhatsApp, and Instagram because of that. But the deeper reality is that most people are not aware of what really is going on behind the scenes and in the code. They’re not aware of the extent of the tracking, nor are they aware of how it can be used against them. At the very minimum, all this data sitting in the hands of one company is an online security nightmare. It’s easy to forget about the times Facebook’s security was breached – like when the personal information of 50 million users was accessed by attackers.

More than all that – what about just simple principle? I know that may not sound extraordinarily compelling or what pleases the VCs, but surely at some level, there’s something in each of us that has got to care about the principle of the matter. The fact that it is not okay for practices like this to operate in the shadows. For me, that’s enough to gladly not do business with them. These companies are not trustworthy and the reality is that Facebook (among others) used the Trojan horse of their social network apps to sneak their way into our lives in order to wrestle our personal privacy from us.

Apple is far from perfect. But it’s great to see at least one of these giants-in-tech taking a stand on the side of personal privacy. I’ll gladly get behind that.

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Jamie Larson