- Apple says all apps, including its own apps, are required to show privacy practices to users.
- Apps will have to tell users what data they collect and how this data is used.
- This information will be shown to users before they install the app.
Several months after Apple announced that apps in the App Store will be required to show to users privacy labels, the feature is now live. It is part of App Tracking Transparency, which Apple has announced at WWDC in June. All apps for iPad, iPhone, Watch, Mac will have to show to users details of how they collect users data and how this data is used. The privacy labels, also dubbed nutrition labels for privacy, are mandatory for all apps, though it will be a while before users start to see them. Apple is mandating that the labels should be supplied to all new apps or whenever the developer is updating an existing app.
The reporting of privacy practices is mandatory for all developers, including Apple. Apart from showing details of privacy practices for each of its apps, Apple is also detailing its privacy policies in the updated privacy section on its website.
Apple says that the app product pages will show users the types of data an app may collect and whether the app will use that data to track users or whether the data will be linked to them. The information will be shown in three categories -- Data Used To Track You, Data Linked To You and Data Not Linked To You.
As the focus on user privacy has grown, Apple has taken a lead in bringing about some transparency to the way apps and devices collect user data. The company has also moved to give users better control on the behaviour of the apps that they install of their phones. In fact, in some cases the control on data access for users on the iPhone is so granular that unless users allow permissions, some apps do not even function well. Recently, Apple introduced a new feature with the iOS 14 that indicated to users whenever an app accessed the camera or microphone. The feature showed that Instagram was accessing a phone's camera even when it was not in use, something which Instagram said was a bug.
For Apple, which unlike Facebook, Google, or even Amazon, doesn't rely on advertisement for most of its revenue, focus on privacy also helps it distinguish its phones and services from what other companies offer. For example by taking a lead in privacy, the company is not only giving users options to keep their data private, but is also helping devices like the iPhone compare better with Android phones, which are notoriously porous when it comes to user data.
While users will welcome the change, app makers, particularly companies like Facebook, are not happy about new Apple requirements that apps must meet on privacy. In the last few months Facebook, which tracks users, collects their data and then uses it in various ways, has repeatedly criticised Apple.
However, Apple has responded to criticism by highlighting how users data is misused for targeted advertising. In a letter to human right activists, who criticised Apple over delay in implementation of ATT (App Tracking Transparency), Apple had noted that it would implement the feature soon and had said, "Advertising that respects privacy is not only possible, it was the standard until the growth of the Internet. Some companies that would prefer ATT is never implemented have said that this policy uniquely burdens small businesses by restricting advertising options, but in fact, the current data arms race primarily benefits big businesses with big data sets."