Apps Are Tracking You. Here’s What You Can Do

You can now control tracking in iOS 14.5

Key Takeaways

  • A new study shows that many iOS users don’t want apps tracking them.
  • Experts say tracking is an invasion of privacy and can give advertisers too much information.
  • If you don’t want apps tracking you, there are now more options to stop the practice.
woman using cell phone, man watching

Attia-Fotografie / Getty Images

More apps than ever before are tracking you across the internet, and experts say the surveillance is a privacy risk.

Many people are uneasy about tracking. One recent study of Apple users found that 96% of US users opt-out of app tracking in iOS 14.5. And there’s a reason you should be vigilant about keeping yourself from being tracked. 

"App tracking is bad for consumers because it allows companies to track them across the various apps they use to gather additional data and create invasive profiles about them," Ray Walsh, a data privacy expert at ProPrivacy, said in an email interview. 

Apple Shines a Light on Tracking

Just how much apps track us is becoming more apparent. After Apple released iOS 14.5 last month, it began enforcing a policy in which iPhone, iPad, and Apple TV apps are now required to request users' permission for tracking. It specifically watches for apps that use techniques like IDFA (ID for Advertisers) to track those users' activity across multiple apps for data-collection and ad-targeting purposes.

Pankaj Srivastava, privacy expert and CEO of management consultancy Practicalspeak, compared app tracking to finding strangers in your living room. 

"Apps like Facebook have been occupying our living rooms for years without our consent or knowledge," Srivastava said in an email interview. "It is time to ask them to leave. It is not okay for people to follow us around in the physical world, and it should not be acceptable for companies to stalk us in the digital world."

Personalized ads and feeds have long been explained to users as benefits that allow advertisers to deliver content people are interested in. 

"With each tailored ad and news link, we each sink further into our insulated cocoon," Srivastava. "With each and every such click, you give some of your freedom away. It is time for users to get some of their power back. iOS 14.5 is a small start."

App tracking is bad for consumers because it allows companies to track them across the various apps they use.

Facebook is considered one of the worst offenders when it comes to app tracking because it works with many third-party apps to ensure it can provide marketing information about how users came to download their app or make purchases, Walsh said. 

Many third-party apps share data with Facebook and integrate Facebook's tools to allow people to more easily sign up and authenticate themselves to begin using their services. "Unfortunately, this increases the amount of tracking that occurs and allows Facebook to track users across more apps," Walsh added.

How to Stop Tracking

If you don’t want apps tracking you, there are now more options to stop the practice. As stated previously, iOS 14.5 now allows users to opt-out of app tracking.

Always think twice before signing into a third-party app using your Facebook account, Walsh said. If you do sign in with Facebook, it allows the third-party app to start snooping on you more easily.

Paul Roberts, the CEO of cloud advertising marketplace Kubient, says users should inform themselves about tracking. In an email interview, he pointed to increased legislation around consumer rights for privacy, including the California Consumer Protection Act, which has been signed into law and will go into effect in early 2023. 

Roberts predicted that app tracking will begin to drop off due to legislation and software changes like Apple’s new policy. 

"What these consumers will soon realize is that ads served to them in apps will be a lot less personalized and targeted to their consumers’ behaviors because marketers have fewer data to go off of when serving ads," he added.

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