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Google doesn’t want to ask your permission to let it track your iPhone

Published Jan 27th, 2021 7:07PM EST
iPhone Privacy Settings
Image: Teerasan/Adobe

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  • Google indicated in an announcement that it would drop a tracking feature that allows it to track iPhone users across apps rather than risk showing a tracking prompt that Apple requires from all apps that want to track iPhone and iPad users.
  • The App Tracking Transparency policy has certain rules that Google and every other iOS app developers will have to respect going forward, including requesting explicit tracking permission.
  • Google also said that all of its iOS apps are updated with new features, bug fixes, and the new app privacy labels that Facebook criticized recently.

Apple’s continued effort to improve user privacy on iPhone, iPad, and Mac infuriate the companies making money from the ability to sell advertisements you’re most likely to click. The only way to sell those lucrative ads is to track you online, and that’s par for the course when it comes to internet business. You trade some of your privacy for free products. But Apple is making it harder. Facebook’s attack following the rollout of the iOS app privacy labels proves how annoyed the social network is with Apple’s move. The privacy labels will not prevent Facebook from collecting ads. It will just show the user just how much personal data apps grab. And you have to go to a specific place to find that information. Facebook ultimately had to comply or risk having its apps removed.

Google, on the other hand, wasn’t as vociferous as Facebook, even though Google collects plenty of user data. When reports came out saying that Google chooses not to update its apps in December to avoid sticking that privacy labels on them, we learned that it’s common practice for Google to freeze updates in the busy December month. Those updates were coming, reports said. Fast-forward to late January, and Google confirmed that the app privacy labels are indeed coming soon. But the company also told users, in not so many words, that it really hates the idea of asking you for permission to be tracked in various apps. So it’ll stop using a tracking tool that would force it to ask for permission.

Google might not be taking full-page ads in print media telling people how Apple will ruin small business and the internet as Facebook did, but it’s still putting its customers first. In a blog post titled Preparing our partners for Apple’s iOS 14 policy updates, Google addresses Apple’s new App Tracking Transparency (ATT) that will soon appear in ads and explains how it will impact advertisers.

ATT is an iOS privacy feature that’s different from the privacy labels. ATT “will require developers to ask for permission when they use certain information from other companies’ apps and websites for advertising purposes, even if they already have user consent,” Google explains. The company says that the ATT changes “will reduce visibility into key metrics,” which seems to imply a foregone conclusion: Many users will not want to be tracked if offered the choice.

As a result of ATT, “app publishers may see a significant impact to their Google ad revenue on iOS,” Google says. That’s in line with what Facebook said late last year, but without all the commotion. Google says that it has figured out ways to deal with ATT, suggesting there are ways to deliver ads without tracking users or that Google can circumvent Apple’s roadblocks with new tracking features. The following example shows how the prompts will look like.

iPhone User Tracking
Example shows a prompt asking users to allow an app to track them across apps. Image source: Apple Inc.

Only after explaining how advertisers can deal with ATT going forward does Google address the elephant in the room — “How we’re complying with ATT.”

Google says that when ATT goes into effect, it won’t use information (like IDFA, short for or Identifier For Advertisers) that falls under ATT for its iPhone and iPad apps that use IDFA tracking for ads. “As such, we will not show the ATT prompt on those apps, in line with Apple’s guidance,” Google says. In other words, Google will dump a tracker just so it can avoid having to display a prompt like the one above in its apps, asking for your permission to be tracked. Many people will agree to tracking, and Google’s apps certainly deserve to make money from ads. But many others won’t, and Google is acutely aware of that.

Google dropping IDFA doesn’t mean the company will stop tracking you. But Google might have other ways that offer tracking without infringing on Apple’s new ATT rules.

Google also says that it’s working with Apple to comply with the new guidelines and that all of its apps will be updated with new features and bug fixes, and that’s’ when the privacy labels will start showing up.

Unlike Facebook, Google does make an effort to put privacy first, and the company said in the blog post that it’s “committed to preserving a vibrant and open app ecosystem where people can access a broad range of ad-supported content with confidence that their privacy and choices are respected.”

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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