How much does privacy costs? It’s a theoretical question most of the time this debate about surveillance capitalism is had.
But we now have a number – albeit an interesting test case involving only Apple.
After it introduced controversial privacy settings early last year, which reduced the ability for advertisers to track iPhone users and their app activity, it has cost social media giants as much as $10bn (R156bn).
Snapchat, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube lost about $9.85bn (R153bn) since Apple introduced its App Tracking Transparency (ATT) in April 2021, according to an investigation by The Financial Times.
Over the years the advertising industry has gotten more aggressive in what data it tracks, and just as aggressive in data-mining this personal information.
When Apple announced these changes in 2020, Facebook took the unusual step of running full-page adverts in major US newspapers in December 2020, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal.
“We’re standing up to Apple for small businesses everywhere,” shouted the headline, as usual with no awareness of the irony of the world’s biggest social media giant trying to claim its data-hoarding business model somehow makes it easier for small businesses.
Clearly only Facebook itself and its advertising agency think this is true. It’s a common complaint from big tech firms that they are champions for small businesses – despite all evidence to the contrary.
Apple’s ATT is an important step in the right direction in terms of privacy, but also a demonstration that the sky didn’t fall on our heads as the social media giants wailed when this privacy setting was introduced.
“Apple moving from a stance of ‘tracking is sanctioned by default’ to ‘tracking is only sanctioned when a user opts in’ is a big, big deal,” the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Bennett Cyphers told The Washington Post.
ATT stops advertisers from tracking iPhone users using a specific handset tracking system known as ID for Advertisers (IDFA).
When people opt out of this tracking, it reduces what these digital advertising networks can learn about us from our internet usage. I was horrified when I first discovered how much detail an app can collect. Of course, the app says such data is anonymous but numerous revelations (especially by The New York Times) have demonstrated how open to abuse this anonymised data can be. In one instance, the paper was able to track a specific person’s activity and where she went in the world – which just happened to be the day she went to an abortion clinic.
I have turned off all such seemingly helpful messages to apps, which I suggest everyone else does too. If you haven’t been shown pop-ups on your iPhone to turn them off, you can do so by going to Settings > Privacy > Tracking and unticking “allow apps to request to track”.
A major theme of last year was how privacy controls have started appearing in the tech and internet space. If you haven’t already, start turning off the taps of surveillance capitalism. We all deserve our privacy.
- This article first appeared in The Financial Mail