By Joanna Stern and Nicole Nguyen
"Allow 'The Sims' to track your activity?" "Allow
'Merriam-Webster' to track your activity?" "Allow 'WSJ' to track
Welcome to the start of iPhone and iPad privacy pop-upalooza.
Expect a whole lot more of it in the coming weeks. In Apple's next
software release, iOS 14.5, apps that track user data for
advertising purposes or share data with data brokers will be
required to show you a prompt asking permission to track. Some
developers have already implemented the prompt, which is why you
may be seeing the pop-ups right now.
On these pop-ups, you'll have two options to choose from:
"Allow" or "Ask App Not to Track." The idea is that instead of
digging through complicated settings to opt out of tracking that
you don't really see or are even aware of, you can now opt in, if
you enjoy targeted ads. Apps will now ask you before sharing your
data with other apps -- or third-party advertisers or data brokers.
It's all part of Apple's effort to present you with more privacy
But while the choices might seem simple, there's quite a lot
happening behind the scenes. What exactly do these options mean,
and how will they impact your privacy? Here's a breakdown of what
Apple is calling App Tracking Transparency, and what happens if you
opt out or opt in.
Wait, apps are tracking me?
Oh, yes, apps have been tracking you. You know how you may
search for something on one website and then the ad for that
product can follow you around the web? Well, instead of using
web-browser tracking tools like cookies, iPhone apps tend to use a
secret string of numbers on your phone. It's called the IDFA --
Identifier for Advertisers -- and is used for tracking and
identifying what you do in apps and across apps. (Android has
Here's an example of how it works. You download a free,
ad-supported meal-tracking app. Then a few hours later you start
seeing ads for weight loss or healthy eating in your Facebook feed.
You also start seeing ads based on what Facebook knows about you
(maybe your interest in technology or comfy clothing) right in the
What's happened behind the scenes? The food-tracking app and
Facebook matched information about you using your IDFA.
Since most apps use this ID, the data attached to your IDFA can
include everything from what apps you've downloaded and what you've
searched for to your purchase history and location -- and much,
Why am I seeing these pop-ups?
Unless you've been a religious reader of our columns or are
pretty tapped into this stuff, you have probably not been aware of
the extent of all this tracking. So Apple decided it was time to
make it less opaque. In iOS 14.5, apps can only gain your IDFA if
they ask permission, and you grant it.
Many companies are now releasing compatible apps ahead of
Apple's public release of iOS 14.5. This is why, for example, you
may have started to see this appear in our very own Wall Street
Journal iOS app.
Why is Apple doing this?
Apple has long billed itself as a company with a commitment to
user privacy. In 2017 the company made it harder for websites to
But that ethos goes further back than that. It was a strong
belief of Steve Jobs. "Privacy means people know what they are
signing up for in plain English," the late Apple co-founder said in
2010 at an All Things Digital conference. "I believe some people
want to share more data than other people do. Ask them."
Apple CEO Tim Cook has continued that commitment and condemned
how app-tracking tools are turning consumers into ad magnets. Let's
also not forget that Apple -- unlike Facebook or Google -- doesn't
depend on ad revenue but the sale of hardware and services to
consumers. Facebook has vocally opposed Apple's move, explaining
that businesses rely on this personalized advertising.
What happens when I tap "Ask App Not to Track"?
When you tap this option, you're opting out of tracking, and the
app is prevented from accessing your IDFA.
Beyond that number, this prompt is a signal to apps that you
don't want to be tracked in any other way, including personal
information like email addresses and phone numbers. According to
Apple, "App developers are responsible for ensuring they comply
with your choices."
What happens when I tap "Allow"?
When you tap this option, it's business as usual. You are opting
into personalized, targeted advertising. You are allowing the app
to collect information about you and share it with other apps or
parties, including data brokers.
Apps get a chance to explain, in smaller text beneath the main
prompt, what data they need and why they need it. A few apps will
go even further, possibly with a full pop-up of their own
explaining how advertising supports their businesses and how your
information is used or shared.
When you are presented with the pop-up, you can't swipe away or
even swipe back to your home screen. You must make a choice. But
you can always change your permissions settings after the fact as
well as see all of the apps that have prompted you. Go to Settings
> Privacy > Tracking.
What if I don't want any pop-ups? Can I opt out from all app
There is a universal setting that will make your default answer
to developers "no." Under Tracking, you'll see "Allow Apps to
Request to Track." If you have it turned on, the apps will continue
to prompt you. If you have it turned off, the apps won't ask, and
they won't have access to your identifier.
In other words, keep this setting off if you don't want to be
bugged about tracking.
Here's where it gets a little confusing: You may not be seeing
any pop-ups at all. One reason for that may be because "Allow Apps
to Request to Track" has replaced a previous setting, called "Limit
Ad Tracking," which you may have turned on. If you did, your "Allow
Apps" switch is now off. Don't touch it! You're all set.
-- For more WSJ Technology analysis, reviews, advice and
headlines, sign up for our weekly newsletter.
Write to Joanna Stern at firstname.lastname@example.org and Nicole Nguyen
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
April 07, 2021 09:14 ET (13:14 GMT)
Copyright (c) 2021 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.