Apple Personalizes Its Own Tracking Ads So They Don’t Sound As Scary

Apple Personalizes Its Own Tracking Ads So They Don’t Sound As Scary

Apple appears to be showing some language bias on a new request to show its own targeted ads on an iPhone after a recent iOS 15 beta update.

Apple recently swiveled its privacy beam 360-degrees to point at itself but seems to have reduced the wattage, choosing to use friendlier terms such as ‘personalized’ for iPhone ads that it wants to show, while third-party ads are typically described as ‘tracking’ the user. This change in tone when requesting permission for its own ads is highly unlikely to be accidental. Apple has decades of experience with user interface design, suggesting that this was a carefully crafted message meant to influence the user’s choice toward permitting Apple’s own ads.

Apple was among the first major tech companies to show an interest in privacy, possibly because ad revenue doesn’t have such a starring role in its bottom line as it does for Google, Facebook, and Microsoft. Apple does show its customers advertising mixed with content in the App Store, Apple News, and Stocks, but the placement is quite sparse and clearly marked as ads. With Apple only earning about 1-percent of its total revenue from advertising, pressure from investors will be unlikely to affect ad policies, which might otherwise create a bigger conflict with its current privacy goals.

Related: Watch Apple’s Entertaining New Privacy Ad Poke Fun At App Tracking

In the latest update to the iOS 15 public beta release, Apple discloses its own ad tracking behavior when requesting permission to show targeted advertising to iPhone users. However, the language used in the request is quite different than that used for apps from other developers. The first reaction to the request to show targeted ads might be to exclaim that Apple is not being hypocritical, giving itself the same treatment as everyone else. Upon a closer look, the difference in wording becomes apparent. The request that appears when opening an app from a third-party developer uses the phrase ‘track you across apps and websites,’ providing two buttons labeled ‘Ask App Not to Track‘ and ‘Allow Tracking.’ Apple’s apps use the phrase ‘personalized ads,’ while describing how that ‘helps you‘ and leads with a button to ‘Turn On Personalized Ads,’ which is highlighted in blue, above the button to opt-out, which is labeled ‘Turn Off Personalized Ads.’ This difference has been noted by others as well, including The Verge‘s Alex Heath who recently tweeted about the use of language.

Are Apple’s Ads Different?

Apple iPhone Stocks And News Ads

Apple’s privacy focus does mean the data shared with Apple should stay within Apple’s ecosystem, but the user is still being tracked. The tracking is simply limited to Apple’s vast empire of products and services. So activity from Safari might inform the ads shown in the App Store and articles read in Apple News could affect which targeted ads are displayed in Apple’s Stocks app. This is how targeted advertising works for third-party apps also. There is a critical difference, however. When a social media app uses data it has collected from the user, it is a much more robust set of personal information than what Apple collects. The user’s personal data can also be shared with other companies for advertising purposes. If the purpose is simply to show more relevant ads, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Seeing products that are personally interesting is actually quite convenient. The more a person’s smart technology knows about them, the more helpful devices can become. The trouble comes when the ‘products’ being advertised are not items but rather ideas or are politically motivated. When advertisers attempt to find the right angle to influence a vote, that might become a lever that works against democracy. This is not meant to imply that Apple doesn’t have its own political motivations, since it would clearly wish for iPhone owners to believe that its hefty 30-percent App Store commission is a good thing and shouldn’t be scrutinized by the government.

The problem with Apple’s approach in requesting permission from the user to show targeted ads is the language used. Personalized ads that help the user sounds so much more appealing than tracking across third-party websites and apps. Even the presentation of the buttons shows some bias. Apple places the authorization button on top and highlights it in blue for its own request, while ad requests from third-party apps show the deny button on top. It is good that Apple has a focus on privacy and even requests permission for its own advertising, but the method it uses should be presented in exactly the same way it does for third-party apps.

Next: Did Apple’s Siri Assistant Violate User Privacy? The Courts Will Decide

Source: Alex Heath/Twitter, Barrons

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