Apple will start asking for permission to enable Personalized Ads in iOS 15, the company’s method of serving relevant ads in the App Store and Apple News by analyzing what you read, purchase, and search for on your device (via 9to5Mac). The company used to collect that information by default, but now it plans to ask for permission. Apple required other developers to seek users’ permission with the debut of App Tracking Transparency, so it seems like it’s showing that it will hold itself to a similar standard.
The Personalized Ads pop-up should show up when you open the App Store if you’re running the most recent iOS 15 beta. In the pop-up, Apple writes that the ads will help you discover relevant apps, products, and services while protecting your privacy by using “device-generated identifiers and not linking advertising information to your Apple ID.”
According to Apple’s Advertising policy, the sources it draws from to target ads vary, but they can include your device information (including your location if you’ve granted permission), App Store searches and purchases, and news stories you read in Apple News. The company links to its policy and also lets you turn off personalized ads entirely in the Settings app.
From one angle, this is one of the smallest gestures Apple could make toward treating itself the same way it treats developers — who all have to ask to track users of Apple’s products as part of the controversial App Tracking Transparency policy. As 9to5Mac mentions, however, Apple’s closed-loop first-party ad targeting technically doesn’t fall under the purview of those restrictions, unlike developers’ apps that may share the information they collect with third parties.
Apple’s language choice is worth examining, too, as The Verge’s senior reporter Alex Heath notes: developers are expected to ask a user if they consent to being tracked, while Apple is allowed to refer to what it’s doing as “personalization.” Those words don’t exactly have the same positive connotation.
This change might be better viewed as yet another minuscule concession — like recent changes to what developers are allowed to link to in-app — in response to the current antitrust scrutiny Apple faces and will likely deal with in the future. A little ad-tracking pop-up is a small piece of evidence to point to and say, “See, we’re trying to be fair” whether or not they actually are being fair in any meaningful way.