Taking Sides in the Great Privacy Debate

It’s the week of reckoning for Apple and Facebook users. We’ve been hearing for months about App Tracking Transparency, which requires applications to ask permission if they want to track your activity across other companies’ apps and websites. That feature arrived in iOS 14.5 Monday along with a few new emojis, the ability to unlock an iPhone from an Apple Watch and a way to report road accidents via Apple Maps.

Apple CEO Tim Cook says privacy is a “fundamental human right.” Advertisers say if we want free content, we have to suffer ads. Facebook — which sells our tracking information to advertisers so they can target us with ads based on our internet activity — says Apple’s new privacy rules will hurt businesses all over the world. Industry sources say the big tracking turn-off could cost Facebook $3 billion a year.

If I say yea, apps will continue to be able to track me as I traipse from app to app so that Facebook can continue to sell my data to advertisers. Or, I can say nay, and I’ll still get ads but supposedly ones that are less relevant to me because apps won’t be able to spy on my internet travels. Given that I am frequently served ads for things my phone’s apps eavesdrop on as I walk down the street, I’m with Mr. Cook on this one. As soon as I updated to 14.5, I tapped over to Settings, Privacy and Tracking and toggled off Allow Apps to Request to Track.

I still live in the Windows world with my PC so it will be interesting to see which ads I prefer, the non-targeted ones on my phone, or the ones fed by my internet searches on the desktop. Maybe they won’t change much at all. I think Facebook became pretty tired of my low-brow shopping budget and started peppering me with ads for three-figure handbags I would never consider buying.

I understand that I have to see ads if I don’t want to pay for a game or get the premium version of Peacock, and I’m good with that. Sometimes I have even found targeted ads useful. I got a colorblock mug from the Human Rights Campaign through a Facebook ad that I wouldn’t have known about otherwise. Prepared food delivery services keep trying to draw me in, and one of these days I just may bite.

But a lot of ads annoy me. I don’t think opting out of tracking will help me avoid the sponsored Birddog pants ads I see every day when I play Word Blitz. Now that’s an instance where I wish Facebook did send me targeted ads. I’m neither 30 years old nor male so why am I being force-fed these ads as a tradeoff for playing Word Blitz for free? That tracking scent is way off course, and no one’s a winner: I block the ad with my hand until it’s over.

A few weeks ago I saw shirts on Facebook that were appealing — a little Hawaii-like but with cool textured prints. I clicked but got nowhere through Facebook. I tried a Google search for the website — same result. I never did get to the brand’s homepage but I did find some reviews complaining of exorbitant prices and the shirts’ polyester composition. Anyone tracking me knows I’m a cotton girl and a coupon hound. Lands’ End and L.L. Bean know this, and they have me on speed send for promo codes and free shipping offers.

Bean doesn’t get it right all the time, either, though. I often get ads on my phone for things I’ve already bought. That seems like a wasted placement. Why would I be interested in seeing an ad for something I already bought? This morning Bean showed me an ad for a dress. Seriously? I think I wore a dress once in 2004, but I’m not sure. Another wasted opportunity.

A CNET how-to article said when I download and open a new app, I’ll get a notification asking if I want to let the app track my activity across other companies’ apps and websites. The Print Studio app I downloaded didn’t give me that option, but since the big tracking turnoff, I think I noticed some different ads on Facebook. Some were decidedly not targeted to my search history, including one with tennis star and multi-millionaire Serena Williams sporting $250 Stuart Weitzman sandals. That’s okay; it doesn’t hurt to see how the other half lives.

With privacy settings locked down in iOS 14.5, I feel a little like I’ve drawn the shades to keep out a peeping Tom, but I know this fix is likely short-lived. “Technology has been moving away from cookies and pixels for a while now,” said Daniel Markuson, digital privacy expert at NordVPN.

Fingerprinting is considered “the future of user tracking — not pixels or cookies,” he said. “What Apple does will benefit user privacy only for a short while.”

 

The post Taking Sides in the Great Privacy Debate appeared first on EETimes.

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