Apple’s ads over the last year have been centered around one idea: privacy. The message is that the rest of the tech industry is fucking up while Apple is not.
Frankly, they have a point. With its encrypted phones and messages to anti-tracking in browsers, Apple is jumping over an admittedly low bar on privacy issues. But the Cupertino giant is far from perfect and has its own privacy critics, one of which is putting a spotlight on iPhone tracking tech that most users are unaware of.
A petition launched this week by Mozilla is asking Apple to make it harder for advertisers to track iPhone users by implementing an automatic monthly rotation of the unique ID (an “identifier for advertiser” or IDFA) that comes with every new iPhone. Mozilla is, of course, the Silicon Valley-based free software organization behind the Firefox browser and other free software.
As Ashley Boyd, Mozilla’s VP of advocacy, explains in a blog post, changing the IDFA each month would still enable advertisers to deliver “relevant ads” to users, “but it would be harder for companies to build a profile about you over time.”
iPhone owners can turn this off on their own. Just go to Settings > Privacy > Advertising, where you can turn on the ‘limit ad tracking’ option. You can turn off location-based ads by going to Settings > Privacy > Location services > System services and turning off “location-based Apple ads.”
It’s the kind of work that most tech users won’t do, even if the options weren’t hidden in a Russian nesting doll of setting options. That’s why Mozilla is asking Apple to take action themselves.
The IDFA “lets advertisers track the actions users take when they use apps,” according to Mozilla. “It’s like a salesperson following you from store to store while you shop and recording each thing you look at. Not very private at all.”
Apple didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Previous criticism of the IDFA has been met with pushback from app developers who say they need the tech to monetize the free app ecosystem so many of us have become used to. Would a monthly rotation strike a different balance?
“If Apple makes this change, it won’t just improve the privacy of iPhones — it will send Silicon Valley the message that users want companies to safeguard their privacy by default,” writes Boyd.