Citizen awareness has raised the pressure on the use of data and user privacy. Concerns about achieving a more secure future have crossed the physical barrier and have crept into the digital spectrum, with the claim to contain the power that technology has gained even in the most intimate spaces, such as mobile phones. At the head of the crusade, Manzana is now removing the foundations of a cyber industry that remains unclear who owns supremacy between users and digital advertisers. A new privacy measure introduced by Apple in the update of its software, iOS 14, reframes the question and exposes the dangerous game of cat and mouse that is played on every smartphone.
One in three Spaniards spends at least 20 hours a week browsing mobile applications. What do you like, what are the recent searches, what catches your attention: everything has been recorded by the same sea of applications that promise you unlimited accessibility – and free – with just one click. But this trail is the lifeblood of a digital advertising industry that had a turnover of 3.15 billion euros in Spain in 2019. A quarter, only in personalized ads on social networks, according to the report Investment Advertising in Digital Media of IAB Spain, the Association of advertising, marketing and digital communication in Spain.
Behind the magic of ad personalization are companies like Google or Facebook, whose applications, such as Instagram and WhatsApp, can communicate to exchange data on the behavior that each person has had in networks. Although the user is not always aware of the trail it leaves. Mario Jiménez, managing partner of the PR Garage communication agency, highlights: “Everything you do leaves a trace that is used to offer you personalized advertising. The Internet is not just a search engine, it is also your social networks and the rest of the applications ”. For Jiménez, users usually accept the terms and conditions with a certain naivety: “We are more compensated for comfort than privacy.”
With the update of your operating system, iOS 14, Apple obstructs that free way that applications had until now and cedes control to the user. When downloading the mobile applications, an alert on the devices will read: “This application requests permissions to follow you among other applications and websites. Your data will be used to offer you personalized advertisements ”. Thus, the Sillicon Valley billionaire will explicitly ask users if they want to share their advertising identifier (IDFA) with applications, which use this information to position advertisements within mobile platforms.
If this tracking happened in real life, it might seem crazy. This is stated by Alejandro Domínguez, director of the digital area in Llorente and Cuenca. “Apple is taking a step towards a more ethical Internet advertising. It leaves behind the idea of hunting the customer in cyberspace and forces companies to really connect with people, “he says. For Domínguez, Apple’s move could also skyrocket the price of Internet advertising. “It may be more expensive, but it will be fairer,” he says.
One of the first companies to protest Apple’s decision has been Facebook, ensuring that it has seen a drop of more than 50% in the income of advertisers who use the Audience Network platform when the personalization of mobile ads is disabled. Thus, Apple’s decision would be a serious blow to the economic engine of the technology giant. The social network registered, in the fourth quarter of 2019, almost 18,000 million euros from advertising. 94%, from the mobile. In Spain, Facebook has 22 million users and earns almost nine euros for each of them, raising its advertising revenue to almost 180 million euros per quarter.
Alejandro Domínguez highlights that Apple’s decision responds to its brand promise as the “safest and most private system”. “Citizens demand from technology companies greater control of how they market data,” he adds. Mario Jiménez agrees with the idea and explains that Apple’s movement has also been motivated by the positioning of institutions such as the European Union. “It has begun to demand more control of this type of data and increasingly puts pressure on large technology companies to comply with European regulations, which are generally stricter than the United States.”
Other engines of this million-dollar industry are data brokers that charge from a few cents for simple information such as email to hundreds of euros for complete profiles that specify geolocation, age, gender and history Shopping. This is the case of Xeerpa, a Spanish company that generates databases through social login or logins with accounts previously created on social networks such as Facebook, Twitter or Google. The company’s promise, according to its website, includes a database with user interests, social activity, places visited, brands and preferred products. “The most advanced 360 ° user profile,” it states on its website.
Postponement to 2021
However, the new privacy measure won’t go into effect until early 2021. Apple has argued that it will give advertisers and app developers more time to prepare. Still, the companies that derive their highest revenue from advertising remain suspicious of the new policy.
The discomfort with the new measure is justified by the mistrust that the user experiences when receiving alerts requesting permission to access their information. This is explained by Javier Fernández, iOS developer, and creator of the iLinks mobile application. “You usually say no out of fear, not necessarily because you understand what they are asking you,” he explains. For Fernández, this caution can take a toll on the use of the applications and weaken their potential as a channel to collect data on the user’s digital behavior and, therefore, to deliver personalized advertising. Three out of ten consumers who uninstall an application do so within 24 hours of downloading it.
The months of deferral granted by Apple until 2021 will allow companies to generate alternatives to access user data, according to Fernández. “This Apple requirement can be installed quickly. What applications that live from data mining or advertising have to think now is: ‘If the user says no, what can we do?’