Speed Reads

There's no such thing as a free app

Apple just gave iPhone users a big privacy tool, and Facebook is livid

Apple rolled out an iPhone update Monday that hands its customers a powerful tool to protect their privacy, and they have to choose not to use it. The opt-in tracking feature in iOS 14.5 is a threat to Facebook and other companies that harvest user data to sell targeted ads, and Facebook has been railing against Apple's move — and Apple — since the company announced its App Tracking Transparency (ATT) feature last June.

"One of the secrets of digital advertising is that companies like Facebook follow people's online habits as they click on other programs, like Spotify and Amazon, on smartphones," The New York Times explains. Now, Facebook and other apps have to ask permission to do this on updated iPhones — and users can turn off all tracking in the phone's privacy settings.

"What could this mean to you?" NBC News says. "Well, generic ads and maybe fewer free apps," plus a real sense of "just how much of our data we've been giving away." CBS Evening News ran through what's at stake Tuesday night.

Basically, "this is a choice about who you think deserves your personal information, and how targeted you want the marketing in your feeds to be," Joanna Stern writes at The Wall Street Journal. Asking an app not to track you "is your hands-off-my-data choice," and "tapping this tells the system not to share something you probably never knew you were sharing, called an IDFA — Identifier for Advertisers." She detailed how that works. "App makers have two opportunities to explain how they will use the data and convince you they're worthy," Stern adds, and if you agree to be tracked, "your data flows like the Mississippi — at least among the apps that get your consent."

That's what is at stake for you. For Apple and Facebook, this is the latest and biggest battle between their "deeply divergent visions for the digital future," the Times reports. Apple and its CEO, Tim Cook, argue that people want and deserve control over their privacy, even if it costs something up front. Facebook and its CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, hope people like ads tailored to their interests and bet they will put up with tracking to get "free" apps. The fight has gotten personal — and at times, ugly.

The Journal's Stern used "ripped" Zuckerberg and Cook dolls to explore the philosophical battle cresting with iOS 14.5. Peter Weber