To Be Tracked or Not? Apple Is Now Giving Us the Choice.

If we had a choice, would any of us want to be tracked online to see more relevant digital ads?

We are about to find out.

On Monday, Apple released iOS 14.5, one of its most anticipated software updates for iPhones and iPads in years. It includes a new privacy tool, App Tracking Transparency, which could give us more control over how our data is shared. Here’s how it works: When an app wants to follow our activities to share information with third parties such as advertisers, a window will appear on our Apple device to ask for our permission. The app must stop monitoring and sharing our data if we say no.

A pop-up window may sound like a minor design tweak, but it has thrown the online advertising industry upheaval. Most notably, Facebook has gone on the warpath. Last year, the social network created a website and took out full-page newspaper ads denouncing Apple’s privacy feature as harmful to small businesses.

A big motivator, of course, was that the privacy setting could hurt Facebook’s business. (Facebook’s chief executive Mark Zuckerberg has disputed that Apple’s policy will hurt his company’s business.) if we choose not to let Facebook track us, it will be harder for the company to see what we are shopping for or doing inside other apps, making it more difficult for brands to target us with ads.

“This is a huge step in the right direction, if only because it’s making Facebook sweat,” said Gennie Gebhart, a director at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital rights nonprofit.


But, she added, “One big question is: Will it work?”

Ms. Gebhart and other privacy experts said Apple’s new feature might not be enough to end shady tracking on iPhones. She and others said it could push developers and ad technology firms to find loopholes to continue tracking people differently.

For about two months, I tested early versions of iOS 14.5 to get acclimated to the new privacy control and other new features. Only a few developers have pushed the pop-up window to the public, so my findings of how well the privacy feature works have been limited.

But I found that iOS 14.5 also has other significant new features. By default, one can use Siri to work with a music player other than Apple Music, such as Spotify. That’s a big deal: The voice assistant wasn’t convenient to use with other music services in the past.

Here’s what you need to know about Apple’s new software.

Don’t Track Me (Please)

It’s essential to understand how tracking works inside apps.

Let’s say you use a shopping app to browse for a blender. You look at a blender from Brand X, then close the app. Later, ads for that blender start showing up in other mobile apps, like Facebook and Instagram.

Here’s what happened: The shopping app hired an ad-tech company that embedded trackers inside the app. Those trackers looked at information on your device to pinpoint you. When you open other apps working with the same ad-tech firm, those apps could identify you and serve you ads for Brand X’s blender.

Molly Aronson

I'm an award-winning blogger who enjoys all things creative but is especially passionate about lifestyle design. I blog over at I love that I get to share my passion for healthy living, fashion, fitness, and travel with readers from all over the world.

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