Apple just revealed when its next big privacy feature is coming—and it’ll protect users like never before

By Michael Grothaus

January 28, 2021

Just in time for Data Privacy Day, which is today, Apple has revealed when it’s going to release its next big privacy feature—and it’s one that has companies like Facebook shaking in their boots. The new privacy feature is called App Tracking Transparency (ATT). Originally previewed last year, ATT will give iPhone and iPad users so much more control over how apps use their data.

Right now, third-party smartphone apps often share data among themselves about the device’s user for tracking and ad targeting purposes. This is done by assigning a unique identifier to each user—and it’s done without most users having a clue. It’s the cross-app tracking this unique identifier enables which is why you might be browsing for a certain thing in one app only to open another app a few minutes later and see an ad featuring exactly what you were browsing for.

What Apple’s App Tracking Transparency feature does is two things:

    It will require any app that uses third-party cross-app tracking via this identifier to notify the user it is doing so. This notification will be presented as a pop-up the first time the user opens the app after Apple updates iOS and iPadOS with ATT. In other words, this portion of ATT provides the user with transparency—they now know which apps are trying to track them across other apps.

    This new ATT pop-up then gives the user the ability to tell the app it is not allowed to track them across other apps. If the user does not allow the app to cross-track them, iOS will not give the app access to the user’s identifier, blocking the app’s ability to cross-track them across third-party apps.

App Tracking Transparency is a great feature that will provide users with greater privacy and give them the power to control their personal data even more. Apple says ATT will roll out first in the next beta of iOS, iPadOS, and tvOS, and will be available for all users in early spring via an upcoming update to those operating systems.

In addition to announcing the upcoming release of ATT, Apple has also updated its privacy website with new details about the feature and released a new privacy report called “A Day in the Life of Your Data”. The report is a sobering look at just how companies track us and use our data. It points out that the average app has no fewer than six trackers, and up to 5,000 characteristics about a user can be collected in consumer profiles.

It’s a sobering read, but one anyone who is concerned about digital privacy should look into it.