Report: iOS Users Who Opt-Out of App Tracking Continue to Be Tracked by Facebook and Snapchat

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“Loose” interpretations of Apple’s privacy policies allow apps such as Facebook and Snapchat to continue tracking users for targeted advertising even when they have asked to not be tracked, The Financial Times reports.

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In May, Apple launched its App Tracking Transparency feature that allows users to opt-out of being tracked across apps and websites for advertising purposes. Seven months after Apple introduced the feature, companies such as Snapchat and Facebook have purportedly been allowed to continue sharing user-level signals from iPhones, providing that data is anonymized and aggregated rather than directly linked to specific user profiles.

The Financial Times said that Apple’s position was the result of “an unacknowledged shift that lets companies follow a much looser interpretation of its controversial privacy policy.” Apple has instructed developers that they “may not derive data from a device for the purpose of uniquely identifying it,” which developers have interpreted to mean that they can still observe “signals” and behaviors from groups of users instead, enabling these groups to be shown tailored ads anyway.

Apple has not explicitly endorsed these techniques, but they allow third parties to track and analyze groups of users regardless of whether or not they have given consent to user-level tracking. In addition, Apple reportedly continues to trust apps to collect user-level data such as IP address, location, language, device, and screen size, even though some of this information is passed onto advertisers.

Snapchat investors were told that the company plans to share data from its 306 million users, including those who ask the app “not to track,” with advertisers so that they can gain “a more complete, real-time view” of the success of ad campaigns. Likewise, Facebook is undertaking a “multiyear effort” to rebuild ad infrastructure “using more aggregated or anonymized data,” according to the company’s operations chief.

In June, Apple faced pressure to tighten the rules around App Tracking Transparency after it was found that third parties were using workarounds to identify users who do not consent to be tracked, but there have been no changes around looser “probabilistic” methods of user identification.

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