The folks at Mozilla are out with a new poll showing that about half of iPhone users don’t know that their iOS devices assist advertisers by providing a unique ID that makes it easer to build user profiles. Worse, it’s likely that very few even know that this option can be disabled.
And most disappointingly, why is it necessary to opt-out? Shouldn’t all tracking be opt-in?
Apple should be leading the way on this. They have been evolving towards privacy for years, turning off third-party cookies in Safari and innovating on cross-site tracking and differential privacy. They don’t track in Apple Maps and have taken many other steps that make privacy the default. They’ve taken to touting privacy in their advertising. But they’re not all the way there yet.
iOS does provide the option of turning off the IDFA identifier (Settings > Privacy > Advertising > Limit Ad Tracking) and that is appreciated; Android doesn’t even allow users to turn this off. And there is a simple ‘Reset Ad Identifier’ option on that same screen, which keeps the tracking on but resets it so as to break the connection between what you did before and who you appear to be after. All nice options.
But we deserve privacy by default. Before something is taken from us, we should have to agree, and give affirmative consent. Nobody buying an iPhone takes that act as agreement to have hundreds or thousands of advertisers know what web sites they visit. Right now it’s just one of the many negative offsets, the bad you have to take with the good.
During setup of IOS, Apple asks if you want to enable Siri. They ask if you want to enable location tracking. They understand that before putting someone at risk you should ask permission. Ad tracking, and everything else that takes personal or identifiable data and shares it with any outside firm, should be opt-in too.