On its face, that might make advertisers’ protests seem strange. Are they really objecting to having to ask for user consent, however bluntly? And if doing so will lead to most opting out, isn’t that an effective admission that they never truly had people’s consent in the first place?
That cuts little mustard with Ashkan Soltani, a former US regulator who helped lead the successful campaign for California’s landmark 2018 digital privacy law. He argues that if people are scared by Apple’s pop-up, it is only because they have never been made aware of how modern tracking actually works.
“Apple is appropriately responding to concerns consumers had about where their data goes,” he says. “[Consumers] are consenting to playing a game of Angry Birds or to use a flashlight app… not to the myriad of third parties, some of whom neither users nor app developers are aware of. To argue that that’s actually consent is ludicrous.”
Indeed, David Barnard of RevenueCat, a firm that helps app makers manage subscription services, says Apple’s main target is probably not Big Tech so much as the ID trade’s obscure “shadow companies”, who provide “zero accountability, zero tools to opt out, zero visibility to the user whose data is being collected”.
Yet trade groups say they don’t object to Apple’s crackdown in principle. “Of course we would prefer that everything was basically self-regulatory, with high levels of adoption,” says Dennis Buchheim, president of the technical standards body IAB Tech Lab, which counts Facebook and Google as members.
But he would be satisfied if the new system was compatible with Tech Lab’s voluntary consent framework, which he says enjoys robust adoption in Europe. “Our take is that we should be moving to a privacy by default world, but it wouldn’t just be this black or white,” he says.
Specifically, Tech Lab argues that Apple’s crude pop-ups lump benign uses of IDFAs – such as stopping users from seeing the same adverts too many times – in with the shadow brokers. Worse, they are too simplistic to serve as legitimate consent under most big privacy laws, meaning users must raid through two consent processes in a row.
For developers like Shakked the danger is personal. He spends six figures per month on adverts for his latest app – a social media marketing tool called Hashtag Expert – which is only viable as long as he can prove that they bring in more than they cost.
“I don’t have venture capital money, so I need to know if there is a return,” he explains. “It’s crucial, especially for bootstrap companies.”