One Apple update trying to change digital privacy and the internet for everyone, everywhere including Bangladesh
Nothing is ever really free. The question, then, stands: What does free actually cost? Turns out, it’s personal data. As societies around the world begin to adopt digital spaces more every day, the debate over data and privacy have been thrust into the spotlight. Leading the debate are giants of the digital and hardware spaces- Apple, Facebook and Google. Apple has over 1 billion Apple device users worldwide.
A recent update announcement by Apple, iOS 14.5, introduced App Tracking Transparency (ATT), and allows users to control personal data being shared. This sent shockwaves across industries. In order to understand the full picture we’ll be taking a look at how Apple is changing digital privacy for users, its impact on markets and social media platforms and how it could influence businesses in Bangladesh.
How Apple is changing digital privacy for its users
Back in September 2020, Apple was set to launch iOS 14.5 with a controversial new privacy feature which would require apps to ask users for explicit permission to be tracked. This was delayed until early 2021. Apple then chose to announce their new update on Data Privacy Day 2021 (January 28) and recently launched the update in early May 2021.
This set off alarm bells all over the world as this new update would bring with it a very specific problem for free social media platforms like Facebook. The new iOS 14.5 update comes with a new feature called App Tracking Transparency (ATT). What was the reason behind this shocking move? Apple says that they wanted to bring transparency to data.
When one uses their phone, apps on the phone can be programmed to track activity across other apps and websites. This is done using IFDA (Identification for Advertisers) so that advertising can be tailored and targeted specifically to the users. An IDFA is a random device identifier assigned by Apple to a user’s device. Advertisers use this to track data so they can deliver customized advertising.
For example, if one downloaded and started using a simple running app, data like location, age and weight can be accessible to the app. Let’s say the user then opens an e-commerce platform to purchase some new running shoes. Data about searches, preferences and style can be collected. Once collected, all the data is sent to a data broker to be sold to whoever is interested. If the data is sold to Facebook, the next time the user logs into their account on Facebook, they will likely see advertisements for running shoes or gyms. This third-party data tracking is commonly used by almost all free platforms in order to bring in revenue to keep providing the free services.
Apple is really managing to stand out using transparency. Even though Apple may have data on what is bought on Apple Pay, or what is streamed on Apple TV, they claim to never harvest the data for nefarious purposes. Privacy seems to have become a luxury accessible to those using Apple. Apple CEO Tim Cook says “This is a simple matter of standing up for our users.” Users should be in control of whether or not their data can be collected and shared across other apps and websites.
Apple set their sights on tackling this exact issue. They say, “App Tracking Transparency will require apps to get the user’s permission before tracking their data across apps or websites by other companies. Under settings, users will be able to see which apps have requested permission to track and make changes as they see fit.” Apple is giving back the choice of being tracked or not being tracked.
ATT allows users to see what kind of data might be collected and used before downloading the apps. As mentioned, a simple running app can harvest everything- from purchases, browser history and usage data to location and financial information. ATT notifies users that this desired app may be able to track and share data with other companies so users can make the best, most informed decisions.
These “nutrition labels” as Apple calls them, are an approach to creating more transparency. The main feature causing the commotion- a pop-up is delivered for every new app downloaded, asking users if they give permission to apps to track and share their data with third parties. Users can “Ask App Not To Track” or simply “Allow”. An opt-out feature has been available with Apple for some time now, but requires a rather tedious process to do so. Now, users once again have the power to opt-in, if they desire.
According to Verizon’s Flurry Analytics, since the update was released in May, over 95% of US iPhone users and over 80% of global users have chosen to opt-out of third-party app tracking and data sharing. The data include some 2.5 million users from the US and 5.3 million globally. These statistics clearly point towards one thing- people don’t like being tracked.
Impact on markets and social media platforms
Currently, many companies and apps are given permission to track users across other apps and websites visited. Among these apps and companies, Facebook, Google and Amazon are the largest and most note-worthy.
Facebook’s business model is based on advertising and collecting user data to share or sell to third-party apps in order to bring in revenue. Facebook says the privacy changes made by Apple will affect small businesses more than Facebook itself. Almost 3 billion people around the world use Facebook. 44% of small or medium sized businesses increased their social media ad spend in the US in 2020.
Facebook says, “The average small business advertiser stands to see a cut of over 60% in their sales for every dollar they spend.” This falls under their tagline of Stand Up for Small, which might seem rather out of place for a company worth north of $750 billion. iOS 14.5 will have an enormous impact on Facebook’s ability to sell ads as well as its incredibly tailored industry leading algorithms.
With less data available, Facebook maintains that the quality of free services we all love and enjoy will greatly diminish. They also published multiple newspaper ads saying that companies who are currently using Facebook will be negatively impacted as “The new iOS update would limit businesses ability to run personalized ads and generate revenue from targeted advertising.” If anything the new iOS update will be giving all users the choice of whether they want to be profited off of.
Both Apple and Facebook maintain the position of wanting to help their users. While app tracking may seem fine for some, the majority seem to think their privacy is far more valuable.
It is important to note that for many, many years, users have been able to access and use free services and apps due to the app tracking and data sharing model. Facebook is not entirely in the wrong for wanting to push back against Apple, but it seems Facebook might be painting itself into a corner. Incidents like the Cambridge Analytica scandal in 2016 highlighted that millions of user data was collected and shared with political figures to help influence US campaigns. This is one way seemingly harmless data and compounds become dangerous.
Google is also following Apple’s footsteps as they too have now added App Tracking on Android devices. According to the Financial Times, in an email sent out to its app developers, Google expressed their desire to “provide users with more control over their data, and help bolster security and privacy and to provide alternate solutions to support essential use cases such as analytics and fraud prevention.” The big difference with Android systems is that users only have the opt-out option. Given that Businessofapps reported over 2.5 billion Android users across 190 countries, it will likely take Google and Android to roll out app tracking transparency much longer, presumably sometime in 2022.
How businesses in Bangladesh will be influenced
Bangladesh, still under much development, relies heavily on SMEs and a largely informal workforce. According to the Study of Future Direction of SMEs in Bangladesh conducted by the Government of Bangladesh, “The total numbers of SME’s in Bangladesh is estimated to be 79, 00,000 establishments. Of them, 93.6% are small and 6.4% are medium.
SMEs now occupy an important position in the national economy. They account for 45% of manufacturing value addition, about 80% of industrial employment, about 90% of total industrial units and about 25% of the labor force.” Needless to say, SMEs are a core part of Bangladesh’s businesses- meaning they may face some challenges by Apple’s new privacy changes.
The success of iOS 14.5 will be much slower in Bangladesh since according to statscounter the operating system market share in Bangladesh, 65.6% use Android, 23.69% use Windows and only 2.48% use iOS respectively. As reported by statcounter, the social media statistics currently show that 79.13% of users in Bangladesh use Facebook, followed by Twitter at 10.84%, YouTube at 5.9%, and Pinterest at 1.83%, LinkedIn at 1.23% and Instagram with 0.67%.
With such lion’s share of usage, Android systems and Facebook are the go-to for SMEs in Bangladesh. With that in mind, it can be safe to assume for the next year at least, Bangladesh will remain relatively unaffected by Apple’s new privacy update. However, with an increasing number of the population becoming more educated and aware of the cyber-space, SMEs will likely have to explore alternative options of reaching new customers. While this presents numerous challenges, finding solutions in this area could yield lucrative opportunities.
For the time being, we can either have free Internet or safe internet. The data privacy wars will need to answer a few critical questions- how easy should it be for companies like Facebook and Google to harvest user data in order to accommodate sales and how much power should hardware giants like Apple be entitled to regarding what other companies can or can’t do. Privacy is becoming much more vulnerable as data continues to emerge as the most coveted asset one can own. Nowadays, it is paramount to understand the value of one’s data and the impact it can have in a seemingly free and harmless cyber space. And now that Apple, a $2 trillion behemoth, is on a mission to re-invent the idea of personal privacy, it will be interesting to see the manners in which businesses and other industry giants respond. Better safe than sorry.