By John Gruber
Flatfile: Never format messy spreadsheets again.
This new ad from Apple touting iPhone privacy protection is good, and genuinely funny. But what makes it funny — the premise is a series of people loudly sharing in the real world the sort of information that gets unknowingly tracked online — is actually the perfect analogy to help explain how the tracking industry — what ought to be considered the privacy theft industry — has grown into existence.
Consider the new ad-tracking privacy protection feature in iOS 14. The tracking industry, led by Facebook, is up in arms about it — apparently such that Apple might delay enforcing it for a few more months, according to this report today by Alex Heath for The Information (paywalled, alas — here’s MacRumors’s summary). Heath’s report closes thus:
Branch CEO Alex Austin, whose company specializes in measuring the effectiveness of ads in mobile apps, called Apple’s proposed change to IDFA “unworkable for the app ecosystem.”
“Apple’s move has gone too far, disproportionately disrupting a vibrant app ecosystem by throwing the baby out with the bathwater,” he told The Information.
The entitlement of these fuckers is just off the charts. They have zero right, none, to the tracking they’ve been getting away with. We, as a society, have implicitly accepted it because we never really noticed it. You, the user, have no way of seeing it happen. Our brains are naturally attuned to detect and viscerally reject, with outrage and alarm, real-world intrusions into our privacy. Real-world marketers could never get away with tracking us like online marketers do.
Imagine if you were out shopping, went into a drug store, examined a few bottles of sunscreen, but left the store without purchasing anything. And then immediately a stranger approached you with an offer for sunscreen. Such an encounter would trigger a fight or flight reaction — the needle on your innate creepometer would shoot right into the red. (Not to mention that if real-world tracking were like online tracking, you’d get the same creepy offer to buy sunscreen even if you just bought some. Tracking-based offers are both creepy, and, at times, annoyingly stupid.)
Or imagine if you found out that public billboards were taking photos of people who glance at them, logging those photos to a database, and using facial recognition to match them with photos taken at point-of-sale terminals in retail stores. That way, if, say, you were photographed looking at an ad for a soft drink, and later — hours, days, weeks — purchased that same soft drink, the billboard advertisement you glanced at hours, days, or weeks before could get “credit” for your purchase.
We wouldn’t tolerate it. But that’s basically how online ad tracking works.
The tracking industry is correct that iOS 14 users are going to overwhelmingly deny permission to track them. That’s not because Apple’s permission dialog is unnecessarily scaring them — it’s because Apple’s permission dialog is accurately explaining what is going on in plain language, and it is repulsive. Apple’s tracking permission dialog is something no sane person would agree to because this sort of tracking is something no sane person would agree to.
Just because there is now a multi-billion-dollar industry based on the abject betrayal of our privacy doesn’t mean the sociopaths who built it have any right whatsoever to continue getting away with it. They talk in circles but their argument boils down to entitlement: they think our privacy is theirs for the taking because they’ve been getting away with taking it without our knowledge, and it is valuable. No action Apple can take against the tracking industry is too strong.