苹果隐私新政这一年:谁输谁赢?用户摆脱数据追踪了吗?

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一年前,苹果更新备受期待的隐私新政时,还特意投放了一则广告,通过视频直观说明这项功能的作用。这则广告描述了一个普通人一天的经历:每当他与一家企业互动时,这家企业都会有一名员工缠住他,形影不离、随时随地收集和传播他的个人信息。

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。

这不是因为ATT不起作用。它真正发挥的作用不仅有限,也很难被多数iPhone用户所理解,这是因为整个过程都是通过在广告技术这个不透明的世界中插入几行代码来实现的。对许多人而言,唯一显而易见的变化就是当打开App时,有时会提示“禁止应用追踪”。

苹果隐私新政这一年:谁输谁赢?用户摆脱数据追踪了吗?

但在这个表象之下,已经发生了许多变化。数据是移动广告行业赖以生存的基础,而ATT却突然切断了它的一条数据流,颠覆了整个行业。过去一年,以此为基础发展起来的企业都在苦苦探寻各种替代措施,重新谋划战略。相较而言,不依赖这些数据的企业却比以往更加强大。

从用户隐私角度来看,推出ATT似乎是件好事。只是,没有苹果描绘得那么好。

隐私政策调整,苹果带来的得与失

推出ATT,目的是解决隐私问题。但这个问题之所以会成问题,苹果“难辞其咎”。早在iPhone诞生前,网上就充斥着各种用户信息追踪机制,但iPhone及其第三方应用却令用户数据呈现井喷式增长。人们随时随地携带手机,几乎所有事情都能用手机来处理,而且还会随时在线。这种技术给人们带来便利的同时,也让移动应用更容易把用户数据收集和变现。

如今,移动广告行业的规模已十分庞大,首先要通过移动设备收集用户信息,然后基于这些信息绘制用户画像,再根据画像投放精准广告,最后对广告效果进行衡量。许多追踪活动都是在用户浑然不觉的情况下发生的。

例如,Facebook和Instagram的母公司Meta就在数以百万的第三方应用和网站中植入了追踪程序,将一台设备在某款App中的行为与该设备在Meta追踪的其它App中的行为关联起来,甚至与该设备持有者的Facebook或Instagram帐号结合起来。这样一来,企业就能在嵌入了Meta追踪程序的应用和网站上向该用户投放精准广告。

但很少有人愿意被监视。苹果也不希望其它公司利用苹果设备监视苹果用户,更不希望用自己的数据为第三方的业务做大做强铺路。鉴于苹果一直都在努力塑料重视隐私的企业形象,这种局面对其显然不利。更何况,同为科技巨头的Meta还是数据收集的重大受益者之一。ATT可以阻止众多追踪方法中的一项,且不会对苹果构成丝毫伤害。

ATT将设备的唯一序列号,也就是广告商识别符(IDFA)的控制权交给用户。当使用不同App时,追踪者可以借助IDFA来识别设备,从而将用户在不同App中的活动与特定设备关联起来。从2021年4月更新iOS 14.5系统开始,苹果设备将不再对外发送IDFA,除非用户同意被追踪。目前看来,这项功能完全按照苹果的承诺运行。

“用户数据属于用户,应该让用户自己决定是否分享、与谁分享(数据)。”苹果发言人说,“在iOS和iPad OS操作系统中,苹果可让用户自行决定是否允许App通过其它公司的App或网站追踪他们。”

违规绕过ATT的方式

ATT有两大局限。用户选择禁止追踪,意味着禁止对外发送IDFA。但企业仍可通过其它手段对其进行跨应用追踪。苹果只是限制了IDFA这条路,并没有限制其它方式,而且苹果自己的广告业务也会用到其它方式。

比如,“指纹识别”。这就需要尽可能多收集看似无害的设备信息,包括设备名称、机型、用户设置、IP地址和运营商。将这些细节结合起来或许就足以区分不同设备,从而有效替代IDFA。虽然苹果App Store的政策禁止这种行为,但却无法从技术上阻止。用户只能依赖苹果的政策执行力度,但有报道称苹果的执行并不严格。

“这有点像猫鼠游戏。”有研究人员表示,有些App仍可收集设备信息,并将其作为区分用户的依据,“苹果顶多能控制发生在用户设备上的追踪,但管不了数据公司内部的行为。

历史证明,无论如何封堵,专业用户数据收集公司总能找到突破方式,继续收集用户数据。

加州大学伯克利分校研究者称,“浏览器试图增加更多隐私保护,比如屏蔽第三方追踪cookie,而想要追踪用户的人则会设计新的追踪机制,避免继续依赖已经被淘汰或屏蔽的技术。就好像是在军备竞赛。”

用户从中得到的教训是:不要单纯因为苹果推出屏蔽功能,就认为能摆脱数据追踪。

合规绕过ATT的方式

理解苹果反追踪功能如何影响用户隐私,还要看它会对依赖数据追踪的企业产生何种影响。答案很简单:这类企业普遍抵制苹果隐私新政。

苹果表示,并不知有多少用户拒绝被追踪。不同机构的测算结果也大相径庭,但多数机构都认为,绝大多数用户(数亿)都拒绝被追踪。所以,追踪者虽然仍能从没有拒绝的苹果用户以及Android用户(至少在谷歌推出自己的禁止追踪功能之前)那里获得设备级数据,他们依然面临巨大损失。

有资深从业者表示,“这颠覆了移动营销领域。营销人员现在必须打破对用户数据的依赖。”

有些公司甚至慌不择路地转向邮件营销,而且是传统的纸质邮件。因为苹果也在打击基于电子邮件的追踪行为。有些企业认为Meta旗下已经削减了Meta的广告预算,因为旗下平台广告投放效果在变差。

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。

“以前在Facebook上投入一美元,能够获得五六美元的回报。” Shanahan说,“现在呢?能有一比一的回报率就算不错了。”

Meta并非唯一一家受到冲击的数字广告公司(Snap等公司同样如此),但它确实最引入关注,不仅因其规模庞大,还因它对苹果隐私政策的调整颇有微词。

Meta坚称ATT会对其业务构成破坏。但它主要宣称此举会对通过Meta购买广告的小企业构成伤害,实际情况……众人皆知。结果也的确如此,虽然Meta广告业务仍在增长,仍在创造巨额利润,但增速却放缓了。对Meta这艘极依赖广告的巨轮来说,这是个非常危险的信号。

Meta表示,“尽管苹果出台了不利政策,但我们还会继续调整系统,企业取得成功,同时尊重隐私,并分享他们可以采取的措施,优化我们平台上的广告表现和衡量方法。”

所幸,在遵守苹果政策的情况下,还是有其它追踪用户的方法。苹果不允许企业在具体设备层面对用户继续进行跨应用追踪和定位,但仍可在整体上追踪和定位用户。换言之,企业虽然无法继续针对某个具体用户进行定位,但依然可以对一群用户进行匿名定位。(谷歌曾经利用FLoC尝试过类似的方式,希望取代基于网络的追踪程序,但并未成功。)

还可以投放“情境”广告,这种模式虽并不新鲜,但在相对缺乏用户级数据的情况下,它却重获青睐。之所以发生这种情况,并不仅仅是因为ATT,隐私法律的出台和网站cookie的消亡也发挥了作用。情境广告会基于用户正在查看的内容投放相应广告,比如你在使用健身手环应用,就可能会看到健身器材广告。

“围墙花园”愈发坚固

有些追踪反而得到了前所未有的促进。苹果没有禁止企业在自家平台上追踪用户(即“第一方数据”),也没有禁止企业在自家平台上使用这些数据精准投放广告。就连苹果自己也在这么做。许多还没有自己的第一方数据来源的企业现在都在加紧建设数据库,或者通过与其它公司合并来获取这类数据。正因如此,越来越多企业强烈建议甚至强制用户先创建帐户,才能使用其服务。

苹果隐私新政这一年:谁输谁赢?用户摆脱数据追踪了吗?

分析师称,“一家零售公司可以直接在亚马逊上做广告。因为所有人都会登录,所以他们拥有足够的数据……这其实不会受到(ATT的)影响。这些围墙花园只会因此变得更加强大。”

身为用户,如果你知道谁在收集你的数据、收集哪些数据、用途是什么,或许就不太在意第一方追踪行为。如果你知道对方是谁,也知道你与对方达成的交易是什么,你甚至会很愿意用自己的数据换取免费服务,但却不希望自己的应用数据在毫不知情的情况下发送给背后的公司。

但这种模式也会产生一些意想不到的后果。从第一方数据的崛起和第三方数据的衰落中获益最大的是拥有最多第一方数据的公司,往往都是全球顶尖企业,比如谷歌和亚马逊。

快速增长的苹果广告业务,也是用的第一方数据。受到苹果隐私政策影响的企业对此怨气颇深,作为回应,苹果委托制作的一份报告指出。ATT不是对这些企业造成影响的唯一因素。

还有人担心,随着第一方数据的价值越来越大,原本就已经十分强大的围墙花园将获得更大的权势。大品牌和大企业拥有足够的资源来适应变化,小企业则不然。广告科技公司Constellation首席执行官Diana Lee认为,这就意味着他们会比以往更加依赖围墙花园,会被优势更明显的巨头们甩在身后。

“整体来看,这会创造更多的垄断,垄断者可能是科技巨头,也可能是大型品牌。”她说。

现有的垄断地位也有可能得到强化。苹果本身也面临着反垄断压力,有多个国家都将出台针对App Store的法律(但苹果否认违反竞争原则)。

如今,苹果只是稍稍调整了政策,就颠覆了整个行业,彻底扭转了许多企业的命运。诚然,这些企业或许从一开始就不该采取这种消费者厌恶的行为,但苹果的权势和控制力,在这场隐私政策调整中得以鲜明体现。

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Apple online Store (China)

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.

Privacy policy adjustment, gains and losses brought by Apple

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

To understand how Apple's anti-tracking feature affects user privacy, it also depends on how it affects companies that rely on data tracking. The answer is simple: such companies generally resist Apple's new privacy policy.

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 is not the only digital advertising company to be hit (as are companies such as Snap), but it does attract the most attention not only because of its size, but also because of its complaints about Apple's privacy policy changes.

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.

Apple's fast-growing advertising business is also the first party to use data. Companies affected by Apple's privacy policy are deeply angry about this, according to a report commissioned by Apple in response. ATT is not the only factor affecting these companies.

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).

Today, with only a slight change in policy, Apple has upended the entire industry and completely reversed the fate of many companies. It is true that these companies may not have adopted such consumer-hated behavior in the first place, but Apple's power and control are clearly reflected in this privacy policy change.

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