正当此人困扰不已时，iPhone上出现了一个提示，提供了“禁止应用追踪”（Ask App Not to Track）的选项。他点击这个按钮后，所有的不速之客都化为灰烬，消失在眼前。
虽然这则广告很容易引发用户的共鸣，但它其实并不准确。这项名为“应用追踪透明度”（App Tracking Transparency，ATT）的功能不会彻底封杀企业在互联网和移动应用中对用户的所有追踪行为，因为苹果做不到，也不想做到。用户数据仍会被收集，只是收集的种类和方式会发生变化。然而，最终的结果几乎相同：你仍会被广告精准定位。
Doctors Internet付费广告总监Zachary Ehrilich表示，正鼓励客户使用谷歌搜索广告。对于坚持使用Facebook的客户，他会在广告中嵌入追踪电话号码，以此判断是否通过这些广告获得了回报，因为Meta的反馈已经无法像从前那样精确。男性护肤品牌Stryx联合创始人兼首席营销官Jon Shanahan表示，原先将广告预算分配到Meta和TikTok两个平台。但从去年8月开始，他将所有预算都分配给了TikTok。
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Just as the person was troubled, a hint appeared on iPhone that provided the option to “disable Ask App Not to Track”. After he clicked this button, all the uninvited guests were reduced to ashes and disappeared before his eyes.
Although this advertisement can easily resonate with users, it is actually not accurate. The feature, called Application tracking Transparency (App Tracking Transparency,ATT), will not completely block companies from tracking users on the Internet and mobile apps, because Apple cannot and does not want to do so. User data will still be collected, but the type and manner of collection will change. However, the end result is almost the same: you will still be accurately targeted by advertising.
It’s not because ATT doesn’t work. Its real role is not only limited, but also difficult to understand by most iPhone users, because the whole process is achieved by inserting a few lines of code into the opaque world of advertising technology. For many people, the only obvious change is that when you turn on App, you are sometimes prompted to “disable application tracking.”
But beneath this surface, many changes have taken place. Data is the basis for the survival of the mobile advertising industry, but ATT suddenly cut off one of its data streams, subverting the entire industry. Over the past year, companies that have developed on this basis have been struggling to explore alternative measures and replan their strategies. By contrast, companies that do not rely on this data are stronger than ever.
From a user privacy perspective, the launch of ATT seems like a good thing. It’s just, it’s not as good as Apple portrays.
ATT is launched to solve privacy issues. But Apple is to blame for the problem. Long before the birth of iPhone, the Internet was full of various user information tracking mechanisms, but iPhone and its third-party applications made user data grow in a blowout. People carry mobile phones anytime, anywhere, can handle almost everything with mobile phones, and will be online at any time. While this technology brings convenience to people, it also makes it easier for mobile applications to collect and cash user data.
Nowadays, the scale of the mobile advertising industry is very large. First of all, it is necessary to collect user information through mobile devices, then draw user portraits based on this information, then put accurate advertisements according to the portraits, and finally measure the advertising effect. Many tracking activities take place without the user knowing it.
For example, Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, has implanted tracking programs in millions of third-party apps and websites that associate the behavior of a device in an App with its behavior in other App tracked by Meta, or even with the Facebook or Instagram account of the device owner. This allows companies to deliver targeted ads to the user on apps and websites that have embedded Meta trackers.
But few people want to be watched. Apple also doesn’t want other companies to use Apple devices to spy on Apple users, let alone use their own data to pave the way for third-party businesses to become bigger and stronger. This is clearly not good for Apple, given that it has been trying to create a privacy-conscious corporate image. What’s more, Meta, also a technology giant, is one of the major beneficiaries of data collection. ATT can block one of the many tracking methods without causing any harm to Apple.
ATT gives control of the unique serial number of the device, the advertiser identifier (IDFA), to the user. When using a different App, the tracker can use the IDFA to identify the device, thus associating the user’s activities in the different App with a specific device. With the update of iOS 14.5 in April 2021, Apple devices will no longer send IDFA unless users agree to be tracked. For now, it seems that this feature works exactly as Apple has promised.
“user data belongs to the user, and it should be up to the user to decide whether to share it or not and with whom to share it.” “in the iOS and iPad OS operating systems, Apple allows users to decide whether to allow App to track them through other companies’ App or websites,” an Apple spokesman said.
Illegal way of bypassing ATT
ATT has two major limitations. Users choose to disable tracking, which means that sending IDFA is prohibited. However, enterprises can still track it across applications by other means. Apple only restricts IDFA, not other ways, and Apple’s own advertising business will use other ways, too.
For example, “fingerprint recognition”. This requires collecting as much seemingly harmless device information as possible, including device name, model, user settings, IP address, and carrier. Combining these details may be enough to distinguish between different devices, effectively replacing IDFA. Although Apple’s App Store policy forbids this kind of behavior, it cannot be technically stopped. Users can only rely on Apple’s policy enforcement, but there are reports that Apple’s enforcement is not strict.
“it’s kind of like a cat-and-mouse game.” Some researchers say that some App can still collect device information and use it as a basis to distinguish users. “Apple can at best control the tracking that occurs on users’ devices, but not the behavior within the data company.
History has proved that no matter how blocked, professional user data collection companies can always find a breakthrough and continue to collect user data.
According to researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, “browsers try to add more privacy protection, such as blocking third-party tracking cookie, while people who want to track users will design new tracking mechanisms to avoid continuing to rely on technologies that have been eliminated or blocked. It’s like an arms race. “
The lesson for users is: don’t think you can get rid of data tracking just because Apple has launched a blocking feature.
Compliance ways to bypass ATT
Apple said it did not know how many users refused to be tracked. Estimates vary widely from agency to institution, but most agree that the vast majority of users (hundreds of millions) refuse to be tracked. So while trackers can still get device-level data from Apple users who don’t refuse and Android users (at least until Google launches its own tracking ban), they still face huge losses.
A senior practitioner said, “this has subverted the field of mobile marketing.” Marketers must now break their dependence on user data. “
Some companies are even desperate to turn to email marketing, which is traditional paper mail. Because Apple is also cracking down on email-based tracking. Some companies believe that Meta has cut Meta’s advertising budget because the effectiveness of advertising on its platforms is getting worse.
Zachary Ehrilich, director of paid advertising at Doctors Internet, said he was encouraging customers to use Google search ads. For customers who insist on using Facebook, he will embed tracking phone numbers in ads to determine whether they are getting a return on these ads, because Meta’s feedback is no longer as accurate as it used to be. Jon Shanahan, co-founder and chief marketing officer of male skincare brand Stryx, said the advertising budget had been allocated to Meta and TikTok. But since last August, he has allocated all his budgets to TikTok.
“in the past, if you invested a dollar on Facebook, you could get a return of five or six dollars.” Shanahan said, “and now? It would be nice to have an one-to-one rate of return. “
Meta insists that ATT will cause damage to its business. But it mainly claims that the move will hurt small businesses that buy advertising through Meta. Everyone knows that. As a result, Meta’s advertising business is still growing and generating huge profits, but the growth rate has slowed. For Meta, a giant ship that relies heavily on advertising, this is a very dangerous signal.
“despite Apple’s adverse policies, we will continue to adjust the system to ensure that companies succeed while respecting privacy and sharing measures they can take to optimize advertising performance and measurement on our platform,” Meta said.
Fortunately, there are other ways to track users in compliance with Apple’s policies. Apple does not allow companies to continue to track and locate users across applications at the specific device level, but it can still track and locate users as a whole. In other words, although enterprises can no longer target a specific user, they can still locate a group of users anonymously. (Google has tried a similar approach using FLoC to replace web-based tracking programs, but without success. )
You can also put in “situational” advertising, which is not new, but it has regained its popularity in the absence of user-level data. This happens not only because of ATT, but also because of the introduction of privacy laws and the demise of cookie. Situational ads will place ads based on what users are viewing, such as if you are using a fitness bracelet app, you may see advertisements for fitness equipment.
The walled Garden is getting stronger and stronger.
On the contrary, some tracking has been promoted as never before. Apple does not prohibit companies from tracking users (“first-party data”) on their own platforms, nor does it prohibit companies from using these data to place advertisements accurately on their own platforms. Even Apple itself is doing the same. Many companies that do not yet have their own first-party data sources are now stepping up their efforts to build databases or to obtain such data through mergers with other companies. For this reason, more and more enterprises strongly recommend or even force users to create accounts before they can use their services.
“A retail company can advertise directly on Amazon,” analysts said. Because everyone will log in, they have enough data. This will not really be affected by (ATT). These walled gardens will only become stronger as a result. “
As a user, if you know who is collecting your data, what data is collected, and what is the purpose, you may not care much about the first party tracking behavior. If you know who the other party is and what the deal is, you may even be willing to trade your data for free services, but you don’t want your application data to be sent to the company behind you without knowing it.
But this model can also have some unintended consequences. The companies that benefit most from the rise of first-party data and the decline of third-party data are the companies with the most first-party data, often the world’s top companies, such as Google and Amazon.
There are also concerns that the already powerful walled garden will gain more power as the first-party data becomes more valuable. Big brands and companies have enough resources to adapt to change, while small businesses do not. Diana Lee, CEO of advertising technology company Constellation, believes that this means that they will rely more on walled gardens than ever before and will be left behind by giants with more advantages.
“on the whole, it will create more monopolies, either by tech giants or by big brands.” She said.
The existing monopoly is also likely to be strengthened. Apple itself is facing antitrust pressure, and several countries will introduce laws against App Store (but Apple denies violating competition principles).