Mobile Detours: Apple Elevates User Privacy and Tracking Controls With iOS 6

Did you pick up the new iPhone yet? Or maybe you’re one of the tens (perhaps hundreds?) of millions of other iOS users that have updated to iOS 6?

iOS users are incredibly loyal when it comes to updating the software that powers their Apple gadgets, especially iPhones. Less than two weeks after iOS 6 was released, the ad network Chitika was tracking a 60 percent adoption rate among all iPhone users on its network. Needless to say, there’s a lot of iPhone users getting accustomed to new features and settings on their devices this fall.

Users might be enjoying these changes, but the implications for marketers and advertisers is a mixed bag. Apple is taking a more streamlined approach to advertising and privacy settings by giving users greater control over their mobile experience as it relates to ad targeting, tracking and the push-and-pull nature of data between apps and users.

The Ad Network View 

With iOS 6, Apple introduced a new Advertising Identifier that acts as “a non-permanent, non-personal” tracking mechanism for advertisers to deliver targeted ads. Apple isn’t cool with UDIDs anymore, and why should it be? They were openly abused. The new code is set to replace UDIDs over time. A basic toggle-switch setting in iOS 6 promises users the ability to turn off or “limit” ad tracking — at least that’s how Apple is selling it. It all feels very beta. Few if any ad networks or apps have implemented the new advertising identifier, but all will eventually be required to do so, according to Apple. Until then, it warns users: “you may still receive targeted ads.”

It’s unclear when the transition away from UDIDs will be complete and it’s unlikely we’ll see ad networks do so until they are forced to make the switch. But after the UDID mess, some in the industry are embracing the change and hoping that the new identifiers will somehow replicate the almighty cookie. Apple certainly seems to have sided with the suits in advertising by burying the limit ad tracking option deep into its menu system (settings>general>about>advertising). I’d be surprised if 1 percent of iOS 6 users ever actually see it there. That lack of discoverability could give advertisers the flexibility they need to effectively render the new setting moot in perpetuity.

The Consumer Perspective 

On the surface, Apple does appear to be taking a more consumer-centric approaching to privacy settings in iOS 6. A new privacy tab sits front and center in the main settings menu, giving users more direct visibility into which apps have requested access to features or data on their device. I don’t know about you, but I like knowing which apps want to pull up my location, scan through my contacts, calendars, reminders or photos, and gain access to my Twitter and Facebook accounts.

Users can drill into each of those categories to see which apps have requested access and which apps they allowed to retrieve that respective data. Why does Verizon’s FiOS Remote app want access to my photos? I’ll probably never know, but at least I know the request has been made and denied. Same goes for the Flashlight app requesting my location data. What is that about?

Instead of forcing users to search endlessly to turn off these permissions, Apple has placed everything in a single menu that even the most technologically averse users should be able to understand. It’s all on the up and up. By giving users more direct access to their privacy controls, Apple is at least symbolically embracing our right to know and control. So long as it works out that way, color me impressed.

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