Scared iOS developers seek ways to subvert upcoming privacy update

Cal Jeffrey

Posts: 3,158   +872
Staff member
A hot potato: Developers fearing an adpocalypse brought on by Apple's new privacy rules and features are already looking for ways to continue tracking iPhone users that opt-out of data collection. Some have said they are even willing to risk being kicked off the platform by bending or outright breaking Apple's rules.

In June of last year, Apple announced that new privacy features were coming in iOS 14. The new protocols would give users the choice to allow or deny data collection on a per-app basis. Apple delayed implementing the new feature to "early 2021" after backlash from advertisers, Facebook, and Google.

Now with the gatekeeping feature set to go live in the coming weeks, app makers are reportedly looking for ways to get around it. Ars Technica spoke with developers who said they would use "invasive tracking techniques," such as "device fingerprinting," to continue tracking users who have denied their app permission.

"100 percent, everyone will try doing fingerprints, whether Apple enforces their rules or not," said one mobile game designer speaking anonymously.

If Apple does enforce the rules, such actions could get the developer kicked off the platform. Even though iOS 14 will block apps from using an iPhone's IDFA, there is nothing in the software, preventing programmers from figuring out other ways to track user data. Even the Electronic Frontier Foundation does not believe iOS 14's new features will eliminate tracking.

"There is still going to be tracking," said EFF's Director of Consumer Privacy Engineering Andrés Arrieta. "We will still see apps trying to do nefarious things. No matter what you do, you will have those bad actors."

However, we are not just talking about fly-by-night "bad actors." Some "large" game developers are very concerned about the impact of giving users the choice to turn off ad tracking.

"This is a huge, huge change. It's the biggest risk that we have [as a company]... it could really affect us negatively," a leading mobile games developer told Ars Technica.

Facebook warned developers on its Audience Network platform that the new feature could cut ad revenues by 50 percent, calling that a "conservative estimate." Others have predicted advertisers could lose as much as two-thirds. However, nobody knows what kind of impact the privacy feature will have on advertisers. This uncertainty is leading many developers to consider breaking the rules or looking for loopholes. Even Google has shown some concern over Apple's new privacy crackdown.

As we reported earlier this week, the search giant has not updated any of its iOS apps since before Apple's App Store privacy "nutrition" labels took effect on December 8. Only new apps or updates to existing ones are required to fill out the data collection labels, so Google seems to be postponing sharing its collection practices for as long as possible.

Perhaps even Google's engineers are exploring workarounds for tracking users without access to a device's IDFA, but that is just speculatory. Google has not agreed to comment on the matter.

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brucek

Posts: 894   +1,297
I understand why this is a loss for some companies. But wouldn't there be winners as well?

For example, let's say you're Candy Crush selling ads to your players. If the advertiser knows nothing about your players besides the fact that they're spending their time playing Candy Crush, they may not be willing to spend very much for their attention. Candy Crush is losing out on being able to collect the premium for users who may be worth more, based on their activity outside of Candy Crush properties.

But when this tracking goes away, advertisers are still going to want to reach their premium audience. They will still pay to do so. And there may be properties that are in the opposite situation as Candy Crush -- I.e., Yachting Today may be able to start counting all its viewers as bona fide potential yacht purchasers, because it will no longer be easy to filter out the obviously implausible ones.

So I'm not sure the industry as a whole really loses? Although certainly individual properties may...

Google seems like it'd be an overall winner, as at least on its own properties it would retain a near omniscient knowledge about its audience. They may be able to collect higher rates as that opportunity becomes less widespread.
 

m4a4

Posts: 2,537   +3,022
TechSpot Elite
On one hand, things are "free" because of ads (ones that make the dev money). No need for paywalls for people who won't/don't spend money in app (and some people are fine with that).
On the other hand, they get some data. Depends on the app on how private/useful that data is.

So, assuming forcing "allow tracking for ads to use this app" is against Apple rules, I expect a lot more apps to become paywalled in response... if that is even a viable option for them in the longterm...
 
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Austinturner

Posts: 289   +341
I fully support apple requiring that users be prompted to provide ad tracking data, however I consider this a form of payment and as such I really feel apple should be allowing developers remove functionality or app access if a user doesn’t want to provide it.
 

candle_86

Posts: 729   +730
On one hand, things are "free" because of ads (ones that make the dev money). No need for paywalls for people who won't/don't spend money in app (and some people are fine with that).
On the other hand, they get some data. Depends on the app on how private/useful that data is.

So, assuming forcing "allow tracking for ads to use this app" is against Apple rules, I expect a lot more apps to become paywalled in response... if that is even a viable option for them in the longterm...

I agree I bet if Google started charging say $20 for their individual applications per every 6 months people's tunes would change quickly. Do I like the fact that I'm constantly spot on no not really but can I afford to pay for every application on my phone no.
 

Ravey

Posts: 321   +138
Most people will just click accept and be done with it.
Maybe you should look for another job if you can't create an app that doesn't rely on adds for revenue.
For once I applaud these changes by Apple.

I definitely agree with your comment. Make more games that are worth paying for!

On the flip side there are plenty of free to play games made by fantastic developers and a drop in revenue of up to two thirds could see a big drop in exually great games from those same developers.

It's a double edged sword. If consumers want privacy we might have to accept that free games and thier quality could be negatively affected.
 

Angga B

Posts: 153   +130
It's good for raising user awareness on this undebatable adage: ‘If you’re not paying for it; then you are the product’

I am not apple fan and I have to give them the credit for this move. Applause.

HOWEVER, as non apple fan I am yet to be convinced that they are not about to do such practice themselves. Infact, I would be more convinced to see this as merely their grand strategy to beat the other big techs. I hope I am wrong but most often than not I am right.
 

Ravey

Posts: 321   +138
It's good for raising user awareness on this undebatable adage: ‘If you’re not paying for it; then you are the product’

I am not apple fan and I have to give them the credit for this move. Applause.

HOWEVER, as non apple fan I am yet to be convinced that they are not about to do such practice themselves. Infact, I would be more convinced to see this as merely their grand strategy to beat the other big techs. I hope I am wrong but most often than not I am right.
It’s a valid point they are very likely containing the user data for their own use. But that’s fair and legal in terms of GDPR.
 

thew118

Posts: 6   +3
<ramble> In theory, I think we should pay for the things we use. In practice, I realize that that’s a privileged point of view, and also that I’ve become accustomed to the free stuff made possible by advertising (worst of both worlds I guess, lol).

I applaud Apple for, at the very least, promoting the concept of privacy in our collective consciousness in a very tangible way. I think we tend to undervalue our privacy in general.
 

Burty117

Posts: 4,229   +2,281
I think the issue I take with it is how seedy and quiet all these companies are about tracking you. None of them explicitly say "we're tracking your every move" or easily let you opt out. It's just simply happening.

Thing is, I get some stuff needs Ads to survive, News I see as a big one and stuff like social media.

Free games though? How about you make a game with purchasing? Or stuff to buy in said game if you want to keep it free?

I have never clicked on an Ad, Ads have NEVER persuaded me to buy something and usually do the opposite. I would like the ability to block them tracking me, I don't even think it's a big ask really, I'm surprised it's have to come to this.
 

Ravey

Posts: 321   +138
I think the issue I take with it is how seedy and quiet all these companies are about tracking you. None of them explicitly say "we're tracking your every move" or easily let you opt out. It's just simply happening.

Thing is, I get some stuff needs Ads to survive, News I see as a big one and stuff like social media.

Free games though? How about you make a game with purchasing? Or stuff to buy in said game if you want to keep it free?

I have never clicked on an Ad, Ads have NEVER persuaded me to buy something and usually do the opposite. I would like the ability to block them tracking me, I don't even think it's a big ask really, I'm surprised it's have to come to this.

The majority of free games have Ads and offer purchasing.. There are a few that also make you pay up front... World of Warcraft to name one big example..
 

Shadowboxer

Posts: 1,717   +1,322
I look forward to denying these disgusting big tech companies access to my data. Thankyou Apple.

Of course Apple is another disgusting big tech company and they have a lot of data on me. But I trust them more than the others as they don’t make much of their revenue from ad sales as the likes of Google and Facebook etc do.