Four Democratic Lawmakers Want the F.T.C. to Investigate Apple and Google Over Mobile Surveillance Advertising

Patience Haggin, reporting for The Wall Street Journal (News+):

Four Democratic lawmakers called on the Federal Trade Commission to investigate Apple Inc. and Alphabet Inc.’s Google, alleging the companies engage in unfair and deceptive practices by enabling the collection and sale of mobile-phone users’ personal information.

Apple and Google “knowingly facilitated these harmful practices by building advertising-specific tracking IDs into their mobile operating systems,” the lawmakers wrote in a letter to FTC chair Lina Khan sent on Friday.

This strikes me as deeply misguided in several ways. For one thing, it doesn’t seem to acknowledge that the Identity for Advertisers (IDFA) was created to replace immutable unique device IDs, which advertisers were using previously for tracking. Second, with Apple’s recent Ad-Tracking Transparency (ATT) initiative, which clearly has put more control over tracking into users’ hands, I don’t see why it makes any sense to lump Apple and Google together on this, other than performative virtue signaling that one is staunchly against the entire “Big Tech” boogeyman complex.

Both companies have recently taken steps to limit the collection of user data through these mobile-ad identifiers — a string of numbers and letters built into iOS and Android, the respective mobile operating systems of Apple and Google. Users of both operating systems now have a way to opt out of having their identifier transmitted to apps. Apple last year introduced a new version of its software that requires each app to ask the user for permission to access the device’s identifier, and Google is planning to adopt new privacy restrictions to curtail tracking across apps on Android smartphones.

“Until recently, however, Apple enabled this tracking ID by default and required consumers to dig through confusing phone settings to turn it off. Google still enables this tracking identifier by default, and until recently did not even provide consumers with an opt-out,” said the letter, which was signed by Sen. Ron Wyden (D., Ore.); Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.); Sen. Cory Booker (D., N.J.); and Rep. Sara Jacobs (D., Calif.). “These identifiers have fueled the unregulated data broker market by creating a single piece of information linked to a device that data brokers and their customers can use to link to other data about consumers.”

So Apple has done the pro-privacy thing and made access to this identifier more clear to users, and Google intends to do similar. This, after creating IDFA in the first place to keep the ad industry from using immutable unique device identifiers for tracking. So the point of this FTC investigation would be what, exactly?

What a fucking day for four Democrats to signal that their attention is out in left field.

Friday, 24 June 2022