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Apple reminds developers to ask users if they want to be tracked in iOS 14.5

Published Apr 6th, 2021 4:14PM EDT
iOS 14.5 Privacy Features
Image: Apple Inc.

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iOS 14.5 is the next major update for iPhone, with Apple expected to release the final version in the near future. Apple has released several iOS 14.5 betas so far, and the final build seems imminent. iPads will also be updated to iPadOS 14.5. The new iOS version will bring over a few novel changes, including the highly anticipated App Tracking Transparency (ATT) feature that will finally force developers to ask users for permission before tracking them. Apple reminding developers to implement this key privacy feature in the updates of their apps targeting iOS 14.5 is further evidence that the final public release of iOS 14.5 is approaching.

iOS 14 caused quite a stir in the past few months, as Apple started implementing the app privacy labels that tell users how iPhone apps are tracking them. ATT will force all developers who want to track their customers across apps and services to show a prompt asking for explicit permission to allow tracking. The prompt will also inform users why the app is tracking them.

App privacy labels and ATT would not block the actual tracking, only inform users about what’s going on behind the hood. Apple has been very clear about the purpose of these features from the start, indicating that developers will still be able to collect data as before.

App Tracking Transparency prompt coming to iPhone in iOS 14.5. Image source: Apple

Facebook voiced its annoyance with the new rules the loudest, launching ad campaigns that misleadingly claimed that Apple’s actions will ruin the free internet and hurt small businesses. Other companies have looked at ways of building tracking abilities in apps that might circumvent the new rules. Advertising companies are worried about their bottom lines. Collecting user data helps them serve personalized ads, which bring in more profit. If more iPhone users choose to deny tracking, their profits could be impacted directly.

Recent reports have shown that Apple is already rejecting app updates if they include technologies that allow user tracking without asking for permission. Apple references that kind of behavior in its reminder to developers.

Apple posted the following notification on its developer site, titled Get ready for AppTrackingTransparency:

Make sure your apps are ready for iOS 14.5, iPadOS 14.5, and tvOS 14.5. With the upcoming public release, all apps must use the AppTrackingTransparency framework to request the user’s permission to track them or to access their device’s advertising identifier. Unless you receive permission from the user to enable tracking, the device’s advertising identifier value will be all zeros and you may not track them.

When submitting your app for review, any other form of tracking — for example, by name or email address — must be declared in the product page’s App Store Privacy Information section and be performed only if permission is granted through AppTrackingTransparency. You’ll also need to include a purpose string in the system prompt to explain why you’d like to track the user, per App Store Review Guideline 5.1.2(i). These requirements apply to all apps starting with the public release of iOS 14.5, iPadOS 14.5, and tvOS 14.5.

As a reminder, collecting device and usage data with the intent of deriving a unique representation of a user, or fingerprinting, continues to be a violation of the Apple Developer Program License Agreement.

Apple is expected to launch new products in April, including a new iPad Pro featuring a variation of the A14 Bionic chip, a mini-LED display, and 5G connectivity. It’s likely iOS 14.5 will launch around that time.

Chris Smith Senior Writer

Chris Smith has been covering consumer electronics ever since the iPhone revolutionized the industry in 2008. When he’s not writing about the most recent tech news for BGR, he brings his entertainment expertise to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and other blockbuster franchises.

Outside of work, you’ll catch him streaming almost every new movie and TV show release as soon as it's available.

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