Apple is stepping up efforts to raise consumer awareness of privacy risks in a new ad campaign, revealed today, that highlights how the data broker industry trades in the personal data of mobile users — from selling browsing history and shopping habits, to location and communications data and much besides that. .
The campaign also highlights a number of features Apple has developed to counter this back-end trade in web users’ information by giving iOS users tools they can use to counter tracking — such as Mail Privacy Protection, which helps users combat email trackers; and Application Tracking Transparency (ATT), which allows them to request that third-party apps not track their mobile activity.
The new 90-second ad placement will be shown globally this summer on broadcast and social media across 24 countries, according to Apple, which also said the campaign will include posting relevant creatives across billboards.
In a press rendering of the announcement ahead of today’s launch, the iPhone maker said the goal is to show how the features developed can help iOS users protect their privacy by taking back control of their personal data.
The ad (which can be seen in the embedded video below) casts the data brokerage industry as a group of “suspicious” “human trackers”—the protagonist, a consumer named Eli, who we meet while shopping for records stumbles upon entering an auction.
Horror shock! — or, well, don’t surprise those of us who are the most online — it’s her personal data that gets hammered.
In the ad, the smiling audience of data brokers can be seen bidding for Ellie’s “digital items” – including her drugstore purchases, emails she opened, details of her late-night messaging habits and contact data (also ). Like the rest of her address book, probably). As the horror of selling her private information mounts, Ellie is shown activating features on her iPhone, including the aforementioned Mail Privacy Protection — which causes data brokers to disappear in a puff of smoke, until the room is finally cleaned out.
The advertisement makes a decent stab at trying to get consumers to understand – and therefore care – about shadowy commerce designed to strip them of their privacy by tracking their daily activity and trading and triangulating various packages of information obtained about them to create highly detailed profiles of each person – which may contain Thousands of inferred characteristics.
It does this by dramatizing what is undoubtedly an exceptionally intrusive commerce as a personal auction of single consumer data. And of course the reality is that most tracking (and trading) is done on a large scale, with trackers baked invisibly into everyday services, both online (via technologies like tracking cookies and pixels) and offline (the data collected can be sold via card payment companies and selling them to intermediaries) – so it can be difficult for consumers to understand the real-world effects of technologies such as cookies. Or you know there is an entire data brokerage industry that is busy buying and selling their information for a big profit.
Perhaps the ad isn’t immediately as powerful as an earlier one focused on tracking — Apple portrayed the trackers as a growing crowd of stalkers, who, brazenly and unassumingly, inserted themselves into an iPhone user’s personal space — watching them and taking notes of their daily activity.
One of Apple’s narrative challenges with this latest privacy-focused announcement is that it can’t show Ellie using a competing device — which could help explain how much of her information was tracked in the first place.
However, many of Apple’s privacy features require the user to sign up for the specific protections – not all of them, though (Safari’s Intelligent Tracking Prevention feature is turned on by default, for example) – so even iOS users need to take proactive action to work To get the best possible level of protection. Hence, there is value at Apple in raising privacy awareness – for both existing iOS users, as well as in the hope of encouraging Android users to make the switch.
The tech giant has made pro-privacy messaging an increasingly important component of its brand over the past five years or so, and it tends to launch blistering attacks on what CEO Tim Cook memorably called an “industrial data aggregator” in a 2018 keynote speech.
This position has become a key differentiating factor for a premium brand in a world of mobile devices and commodity services. But it also puts Cupertino in conflict not only with ad tech giants like Google and Facebook — the latter’s revenue has reportedly been hit after Apple launched ATT, for example — but with the developers themselves, many of whom rely on ads for monetization. Free apps and do it By connecting them to the tracking and targeting system of the ad tech ecosystem, Apple is busy warning consumers about them.
The company is also risking strained relations with carriers — many of whom are involved in hostile privacy tracking of users — after it debuted a VPN-like VPN proxy encrypted browsing feature for iCloud + called Private Relay last year. The feature, which is still in beta, is designed to prevent ISPs from logging web users’ browsing data — and it’s worth noting that some carriers (and countries) have reported blocking access.
Private Relay does not appear in Apple’s new ad on Data Brokers. When asked about this, Apple said it must necessarily limit the number of features it focuses on to fit the format of the 90-second ad. He also noted that in addition to the feature, which is still in beta, it needs partners in the region to run as smoothly as possible — a network that Apple said is still under construction.
Some of Apple’s privacy flexibility – most notably ATT – has also drawn attention from competition regulators, following ad industry complaints. Therefore, there are broader reasons why Cupertino is keen to view its pro-consumer actions through a privacy lens (rather than an anti-competition lens).
Earlier this year, an interesting research paper found that Apple and other large companies were able to increase their market power as a result of the ATT feature that gives individual users more control over what third parties can do with their data — better linking consumer privacy to data collection. more concentrating. Although the researchers also found evidence that the tracking industry is trying to develop its tactics to circumvent user refusal to be tracked.