Update Your iPhone So You Can Tell Apps to Stop Tracking You

Apple is rolling out iOS 14.5, one of the iPhone’s most important updates in terms of user privacy.
April 26, 2021, 6:01pm
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Image: FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP via Getty Images
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Hacking. Disinformation. Surveillance. CYBER is Motherboard's podcast and reporting on the dark underbelly of the internet.

Starting today, you will be able to tell apps to stop tracking you on your iPhone.

Apple started rolling out the latest version of iOS (14.5) on Monday, which could become a watershed moment in the history of privacy on the internet. The new version of iOS makes tracking an opt-in feature. In other words, when you install an app on your iPhone, you will have to allow it to track you across other apps, and if you want, you can stop it from tracking you entirely. 

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This is the most aggressive pro-privacy step Apple has taken in years. Facebook hates it so much that it has launched a full-on PR campaign claiming this change will hurt small businesses. 

For many people on the internet, however, this is actually good news.

Ashkan Soltani, an independent privacy and security researcher, told Motherboard that this is “a great step, particularly the global option to block tracking via one step.”

“It’s in line with the Global Privacy Control project that I’ve been working on, and is required under the California Law,” he said in an online chat. “In addition to technical mitigations, I’m looking forward to Apple supporting the legal right for consumers to opt-out so simply.”

"Apple today is turning on enhanced privacy/transparency in apps. This is a great day for European policy ideas for cookie pop-up boxes, now deployed to millions of smartphones all around the world," Lukasz Olejnik, a security and privacy researcher, wrote on Twitter.  

The feature is called App Tracking Transparency and in practice, it means that when you open apps you will be greeted with a new pop-up: “Allow [App Name] to track your activity across other companies’ apps and websites?” The first choice is “Ask App Not to Track” and the second one is “Allow.”

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A screenshot of the new feature in iOS that lets you turn off tracking for individual apps. (Image: Apple)

Choosing "Ask App not to Track" makes Apple disable the app from using our Apple device identifier, "a random string of letters and numbers assigned to our iPhones and that is used to track our activities across apps and websites," and lets the app developer know that you don't want them to track you in any way, as the New York Times explained

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You will also be able to change this setting through the iPhone's settings, and check what apps have permission and revoke it if you want. 

This new iPhone feature won't stop tracking, nor kill the ad industry that fuels Facebook and Google's booming business. But it's a step in a direction that gives users more privacy and control. 

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