Confronting Advertising and Tracking Companies
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That Was The Week, #35
None of us like being tracked I assume. And we like our iPhones and iPads. Apple has inserted itself into the emotional space that we inhabit between love of our devices and the Internet and hatred of advertising. It’s promise? If you are using iOS 14 on an iPhone or iPad, or Safari on a Mac, you can stop all knids of privacy incursion. Developers will be forced to ask your permission to collect information about your life.
The chance that many people will agree is low. If you have ever seen ads that offer you the product you were just looking at, using a technology called retargeting, you will know how irritating it is, not to mention dumb. I often see ads for things I literally just purchased and will never purchase again.
Apple announced that they were going to enable us to prevent third parties from tracking us by changing the way the IDFA identifier is used. IDFA is a method used to identify a specific device. Instagram CEO Adam Mosseri, impacted by the decision, told CNBC:
[Instagram] will need to “make our case as strongly as we can” to Apple, the public, policymakers, influencers and academics, but said the company does “own the majority of the market here in the U.S.” as it pertains to smartphones and ”[controls] the ecosystem end-to-end.”
“They have an immense amount of power,” he said. “They can just decide we can’t launch new apps at any given moment. We’ve seen a series of articles and even some lawsuits and their influence and power over developers over the last couple months.”
Attempting to turn Apple into the bad guy here is pretty hard. The war between Apple and advertising-led platforms is a war between business models. On the one hand, clickbait and ad revenue and on the other subscription and pay as you go.
Neither model will go away, but Apple can make it very hard for the tracker/advertiser companies due to the number of individuals who use an iPhone. In this sense Apple and Google are on opposite sides. Google’s entire revenue stream depends on advertising, and particularly on targeted ads. Android can never go as far as iOS in preventing unwanted intrusions into content consumption.
Personally I side with Apple as an individual. I can’t wait to not be shown fake news from OutBrain and others whilst reading an online news site.
That said I do support Facebook, Instagram, Google and Amazon against this story in Harpers:
Jeff Bezos, Sergey Brin, Larry Page, and Mark Zuckerberg enjoy much the same power as God did in Babel. We live in the world they manufacture for us. Their vision for what we should do, where we should go, how we should think, and who we should be is now our vision, too. As their manipulation machines increasingly deliver different information to each member of the public, it becomes harder for people to engage in debate and have any chance at bringing these companies under control.
These are not monopolies and we are not somehow bamboozled by them. They provide useful tools and services that we choose to use for their convenience and value. We might dislike the ads, but we tolerate them because we want the experience the apps deliver. Our lack of concern is why when Apple turns off the lights, we will not protest. Just as we don’t really protest at the ads. Our desire for engagement, convenience and fun will trump everything. And that is bad news for Facebook, Instagram and Google. We just don’t care to save their business model.
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