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Advertising industry pushback against Apple’s new privacy changes highlight murky problems with online ads

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You know you’re doing something right when you piss off a group of sixteen digital advertising agencies. That’s exactly what Apple did with its announcement last week.

Obviously, privacy took center stage at this year’s Apple Developer Conference, as has become a tradition over the last few years. Beyond talking points, they also announced several changes to their desktop and mobile platforms that better protect user privacy.

One of these changes, that turned out to be the most controversial, is that Apple now requires apps to ask for a new permission in order to track users. This change makes it incredibly easy and likely for users to opt-out of getting tracked, as any sane human being would not provide that permission.

This story is fascinating for a number of reasons. One I’ll talk about in an entirely different article. But what stands out most to me here is that these sixteen marketing associations that are allegedly backed by Facebook and Google are specifically angry at Apple for “not adhering to an ad-industry system for seeking user consent under European privacy rules”.

Let’s look at that for a minute. They’re mad at Apple for allowing their users to decide if they want to be tracked, instead of doing it automatically and by default. They’re mad at Apple for being transparent with their users and making it easy to opt-out.

Okay. So if these actions from Apple are “not adhering to an ad-industry system”, then what kind of despicable ad-industry system do we have that does not like transparency, ease of opting out and giving users a choice? That’s messed up.

Furthermore, this highlights an issue I’ve long had with “European privacy rules”. Sure, they’re great in that they’re better than nothing and at least some authority is doing something about privacy, but is it really great?

The GDPR only requires companies to ask for consent before tracking users. It doesn’t actually stop the tracking since everyone hits “agree” on everything without reading. I really don’t see how that kind of consent is morally viable for the EU. And I say morally because their claim to care about privacy is a moral one.

It’s a universally known fact that nobody reads terms of service, license agreements, or anything of that sort. I, a privacy fanatic, read privacy policies at the most.

I find it hard to believe that the EU isn’t aware of this fact, and actually expects users to read these terms and agreements. Sure, if we’re comparing them to a legal contract, it would make perfect sense to read them. But you don’t have to sign a legal contract every time you download an app or visit a website, nor can you sign a legal contract with the click of a button just to make it go away so you can find your way home or share a picture with a friend.

If the EU truly cared about privacy, they would be pushing for “informed consent”. That’s when your doctor needs you to not only fully understand the situation, but even understand the consequences of each possible decision you can make, before your consent is legally valid.

So the typical arguments of “the law doesn’t protect fools” or “ignorance of law excuses no one” clearly don’t apply to your relationship with your doctor.

That’s because we, as a society, have come to acknowledge that when speaking to a doctor, the stakes could be remarkably high. And one could easily make rash, regrettable decisions. Which is why we implemented informed consent as a safeguard. To protect us from our worst impulses.

Isn’t it time that we acknowledge the importance of privacy? And how it’s directly related to our freedom? A lot of us have, but seemingly not enough to reach a consensus about protections to put in place.

I understand the other side of this argument as well. That ad agencies also need to survive and they probably can’t without tricking people. I understand it and absolutely reject it.

For all of the great things Google has done, they unfortunately created an internet that lives on ad revenue, making ads and tracking an unfortunate part of the modern internet’s reality.

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