Apple’s new ‘app tracking transparency’ has angered Facebook. How does it work, what’s all the fuss about, and should you use it?


Amr Alfiky/AP

Paul Haskell-Dowland, Edith Cowan University and Nikolai Hampton, Edith Cowan UniversityApple users across the globe are adopting the latest operating system update, called iOS 14.5, featuring the now-obligatory new batch of emojis.

But there’s another change that’s arguably less fun but much more significant for many users: the introduction of “app tracking transparency”.

This feature promises to usher in a new era of user-oriented privacy, and not everyone is happy — most notably Facebook, which relies on tracking web users’ browsing habits to sell targeted advertising. Some commentators have described it as the beginnings of a new privacy feud between the two tech behemoths.

So, what is app tracking transparency?

App tracking transparency is a continuation of Apple’s push to be recognised as the platform of privacy. The new feature allows apps to display a pop-up notification that explains what data the app wants to collect, and what it proposes to do with it.

Privacy | App Tracking Transparency | Apple.

There is nothing users need to do to gain access to the new feature, other than install the latest iOS update, which happens automatically on most devices. Once upgraded, apps that use tracking functions will display a request to opt in or out of this functionality.

iPhone screenshot showing new App Tracking Transparency functionality
A new App Tracking Transparency feature across iOS, iPadOS, and tvOS will require apps to get the user’s permission before tracking their data across apps or websites owned by other companies.
Apple newsroom

How does it work?

As Apple has explained, the app tracking transparency feature is a new “application programming interface”, or API — a suite of programming commands used by developers to interact with the operating system.

The API gives software developers a few pre-canned functions that allow them to do things like “request tracking authorisation” or use the tracking manager to “check the authorisation status” of individual apps.

In more straightforward terms, this gives app developers a uniform way of requesting these tracking permissions from the device user. It also means the operating system has a centralised location for storing and checking what permissions have been granted to which apps.

What is missing from the fine print is that there is no physical mechanism to prevent the tracking of a user. The app tracking transparency framework is merely a pop-up box.

It is also interesting to note the specific wording of the pop-up: “ask app not to track”. If the application is using legitimate “device advertising identifiers”, answering no will result in this identifier being set to zero. This will reduce the tracking capabilities of apps that honour Apple’s tracking policies.

However, if an app is really determined to track you, there are many techniques that could allow them to make surreptitious user-specific identifiers, which may be difficult for Apple to detect or prevent.

For example, while an app might not use Apple’s “device advertising identifier”, it would be easy for the app to generate a little bit of “random data”. This data could then be passed between sites under the guise of normal operations such as retrieving an image with the data embedded in the filename. While this would contravene Apple’s developer rules, detecting this type of secret data could be very difficult.




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Apple seems prepared to crack down hard on developers who don’t play by the rules. The most recent additions to Apple’s App Store guidelines explicitly tells developers:

You must receive explicit permission from users via the App Tracking Transparency APIs to track their activity.

It’s unlikely major app developers will want to fall foul of this policy — a ban from the App Store would be costly. But it’s hard to imagine Apple sanctioning a really big player like Facebook or TikTok without some serious behind-the-scenes negotiation.

Why is Facebook objecting?

Facebook is fuelled by web users’ data. Inevitably, anything that gets in the way of its gargantuan revenue-generating network is seen as a threat. In 2020, Facebook’s revenue from advertising exceeded US$84 billion – a 21% rise on 2019.

The issues are deep-rooted and reflect the two tech giants’ very different business models. Apple’s business model is the sale of laptops, computers, phones and watches – with a significant proportion of its income derived from the vast ecosystem of apps and in-app purchases used on these devices. Apple’s app revenue was reported at US$64 billion in 2020.

With a vested interest in ensuring its customers are loyal and happy with its devices, Apple is well positioned to deliver privacy without harming profits.

Should I use it?

Ultimately, it is a choice for the consumer. Many apps and services are offered ostensibly for free to users. App developers often cover their costs through subscription models, in-app purchases or in-app advertising. If enough users decide to embrace privacy controls, developers will either change their funding model (perhaps moving to paid apps) or attempt to find other ways to track users to maintain advertising-derived revenue.

If you don’t want your data to be collected (and potentially sold to unnamed third parties), this feature offers one way to restrict the amount of your data that is trafficked in this way.

But it’s also important to note that tracking of users and devices is a valuable tool for advertising optimisation by building a comprehensive picture of each individual. This increases the relevance of each advert while also reducing advertising costs (by only targeting users who are likely to be interested). Users also arguably benefit, as they see more (relevant) adverts that are contextualised for their interests.

It may slow down the rate at which we receive personalised ads in apps and websites, but this change won’t be an end to intrusive digital advertising. In essence, this is the price we pay for “free” access to these services.




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The Conversation


Paul Haskell-Dowland, Associate Dean (Computing and Security), Edith Cowan University and Nikolai Hampton, School of Science, Edith Cowan University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Phone wet and won’t turn on? Here’s how to deal with water damage (hint: soaking it in rice won’t work)


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Ritesh Chugh, CQUniversity AustraliaIf you’ve ever gotten your phone wet in the rain, dropped it in water or spilt liquid over it, you’re not alone. One study suggests 25% of smartphone users have damaged their smartphone with water or some other kind of liquid.

Liquid penetrating a smartphone can affect the device in several ways. It could lead to:

  • blurry photos, if moisture gets trapped in the camera lens
  • muffled audio, or no audio
  • liquid droplets under the screen
  • an inability to charge
  • the rusting of internal parts, or
  • a total end to all functionality.

While new phones are advertised as “water resistant”, this doesn’t mean they are waterproof, or totally immune to water. Water resistance just implies the device can handle some exposure to water before substantial damage occurs.

Samsung Australia has long-defended itself against claims it misrepresents the water resistance of its smartphones.

In 2019, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) took Samsung to Federal Court, alleging false and misleading advertisements had led customers to believe their Galaxy phones would be suitable for:

use in, or exposure to, all types of water (including, for example, oceans and swimming pools).

Samsung Australia subsequently denied warranty claims from customers for damage caused to phones by use in, or exposure to, liquid.

Similarly, last year Apple was fined €10 million (about A$15.5 million) by Italy’s antitrust authority for misleading claims about the water resistance of its phones, and for not covering liquid damage under warranty, despite these claims.

How resistant is your phone?

The water resistance of phones is rated by an “Ingress Protection” code, commonly called an IP rating. Simply, an electrical device’s IP rating refers to its effectiveness against intrusions from solids and liquids.

The rating includes two numbers. The first demonstrates protection against solids such as dust, while the second indicates resistance to liquids, specifically water.

Here are the various Ingress Protection ratings. The numbering changes based on the level of protection.
Element Materials Technology

A phone that has a rating of IP68 has a solid object protection of 6 (full protection from dust, dirt and sand) and a liquid protection of 8 (protected from immersion in water to a depth of more than one metre).

Although, for the latter, manufacturers are responsible for defining the exact depth and time.

The popular iPhone 12 and Samsung Galaxy S21 phones both have a rating of IP68. However, regarding exposure to water, the iPhone 12 has a permissible immersion depth of a maximum of 6m for 30 minutes, whereas the Galaxy 21’s immersion limit is up to 1.5m, also for 30 minutes.

While IP ratings indicate the water-repellent nature of phones, taking most phones for a swim will land you in deep trouble. The salt content in oceans and swimming pools can corrode your device and cost you a hefty replacement.

Moreover, phone manufacturers carry out their IP testing in fresh water and Apple recommends devices not be submerged in liquids of any kind.

Luckily, water resistant phones are generally able to survive smaller liquid volumes, such as from a glass tipping over.




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Checking for liquid damage

Exposure to water is something manufacturers have in mind when designing phones. Most Apple and Samsung phones come with a liquid contact/damage indicator strip located inside the SIM card tray.

This is used to check for liquid damage that may be causing a device to malfunction. An indicator strip that comes in contact with liquid loses its usual colour and becomes discoloured and smudgy.

Samsung and Apple phones have Liquid Contact/Damage Indicators.
Samsung/Apple

A discoloured strip usually renders your phone ineligible for a standard manufacturer warranty.

If you have any of the more recent smartphones from Apple or Samsung, then your device will be able to detect liquid or moisture in its charging port and will warn you with an alert. This notification only goes away once the port is dry.

New generation Samsung and Apple phones have a moisture/liquid alert notification.
Samsung/Apple

But what should you do if this dreadful pop-up presents itself?

Fixing a water-logged phone

Firstly, do not put your phone in a container of rice. It’s a myth that rice helps in drying out your phone. Instead, follow these steps:

  1. Turn off the device immediately and don’t press any buttons.
  2. If your phone is water resistant and you’ve spilt or submerged it in a liquid other than water, both Apple and Samsung recommend rinsing it off by submerging it in still tap water (but not under a running tap, which could cause damage).
  3. Wipe the phone dry with paper towels or a soft cloth.
  4. Gently shake the device to remove water from the charging ports,
    but avoid vigorous shaking as this could further spread the liquid inside.
  5. Remove the SIM card.
  6. Use a compressed aerosol air duster to blow the water out if you have one. Avoid using a hot blow dryer as the heat can wreck the rubber seals and damage the screen.
  7. Dry out the phone (and especially the ports) in front of a fan.
  8. Leave your phone in an airtight container full of silica gel packets (those small packets you get inside new shoes and bags), or another drying agent. These help absorb the moisture.
  9. Do not charge the phone until you are certain it’s dry. Charging a device with liquid still inside it, or in the ports, can cause further damage. Apple suggests waiting at least five hours once a phone appears dry before charging it (or until the alert disappears).

If the above steps don’t help and you’re still stuck with a seemingly dead device, don’t try opening the phone yourself. You’re better off taking it to a professional.




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The Conversation


Ritesh Chugh, Senior Lecturer – Information Systems and Analysis, CQUniversity Australia

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The ethics of Apple’s closed ecosystem app store


File 20180627 112628 1idvkgf.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
After 10 years, could Apple finally be losing their control over the way apps are installed on their platform?
Shutterstock

Michael Cowling, CQUniversity Australia and James Birt

This July marks the tenth birthday of the iOS App Store.

The App Store originally launched alongside the release of the 3G model – 12 months after the original iPhone. The store gave developers the opportunity to write third party native apps for the iPhone, as long as they paid the 30% commission to Apple.

Unlike competing android devices, however, you can’t load apps onto an iPhone unless you get them from the official App Store. Installing apps from unofficial sources is known as “sideloading”.




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This might be about to change. A recent court case has the potential to require Apple to open their device to sideloading of apps from outside of the App Store, overturning 10 years of precedent.

Could Apple finally be losing their control over the way apps are installed on their platform? And was it ethical to have such a closed “ecosystem” in the first place?

Shifting from an open to a closed ecosystem

When Apple first launched the App Store, the model they presented was quite unique. In contrast to the Macintosh platform that allowed anyone to download apps from anywhere and run them on their Mac, the iPhone store limited the apps that could be used.

Developers were required to submit apps to the App Store for review. Apple could then check the security was up to the standards of its App Store Review Guidelines. This ensured no unintended functionality was introduced, and malware was kept to a minimum.

Apple was often lauded for this decision. Known for higher quality and safer apps, they have built on this over the years by introducing stronger remote app deletion measures and developer signing requirements.

But hanging over it all was the fact this process ensured Apple secured 30% of any app sales revenue – a figure that has surely propped up their services income. At the most recent worldwide developer conference (WWDC), Apple claimed they had paid over $100 billion to developers over the years, which means Apple would have made around $30 billion of their own.

On top of this, the limitations on the App Store means some apps are not eligible. This has led to a continuing desire for some users to hack their phones through jailbreaking – a practice that allows users to run apps that aren’t available in the store.




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So, in spite of the security benefits, this limitation has caused some problems. And it’s clear some users questioned the ethics of this closed approach.

Why does this matter so much?

The sandbox is fun, but sometimes we prefer the grass

Something not often talked about in relation to the App Store is Apple’s inability to bring this closed model to the Mac.

Buoyed by the success of the iOS App Store, Apple eventually introduced a Mac variant in 2011. But they struggled to reach a critical mass of apps in that store – partly because developers weren’t used to these restrictions on the Mac.

In particular, a feature called “sandboxing” – which prevents particular apps from accessing other parts of your operating system – meant many of the most popular apps couldn’t be added to the Mac App Store without extensive modifications.

Although Apple appears to have reversed this decision at the most recent WWDC, the damage is clear. The Mac App Store is nowhere near as popular as the iOS equivalent, in part due to this lack of flexibility.

The closed ecosystem has also led to some other problems for Apple.

For instance, the restriction that all purchases needed to be made in the app so Apple gets their 30% cut has caused a headache for services such as Spotify, which already have a service customers pay for outside the app. The issue reportedly led to an investigation by US antitrust regulators in 2015.




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Should Apple be salty about the Pepper lawsuit?

Which leads us back to the recent lawsuit, brought by Robert Pepper et al – a group of iPhone users suing over anti competitive behaviour. The class action suit seeks to change the way Apple runs the App Store. Despite being dismissed several times since originally being brought in 2011, the suit has made it to the Supreme Court and will now be heard over a nine month window starting in October.

In what might turn out to be a landmark case, Pepper is asking to be allowed to sideload apps and avoid the Apple cut on their purchases. This presents a problem for Apple, because it means they lose control of the system.

On the positive side, this could mean more exciting apps for consumers, but it also might mean more malware. Either way, it will mean big changes for Apple, who seem to genuinely believe the closed model is best.

The bigger question is what this might mean for Apple’s culture. The company is famous for controlling all aspects of their vertical integration. What happens if they’re forced to become more flexible? Will they buck against this, or will we see a more open, adaptive Apple in the future?

The ConversationOnly time will tell, but it’s clear that after 10 years of the App Store, this case could mark a change that makes the future quite different from the past.

Michael Cowling, Senior Lecturer in Educational Technology, CQUniversity Australia and James Birt, Associate Professor of Information and Computing Sciences

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

How to go completely paperless with iOS


Gigaom

There are some obvious first steps one can take to cut down on the amount of paper used on a day-to-day basis if you’re an iOS user, like switching to electronic bill pay, borrowing eBooks from the library, subscribing to electronic magazines in Newsstand, and using online loyalty programs with iOS Passbook. But choosing up front not to receive or use paper is not the challenge; the question is what do you do when someone hands you paper.

Sometimes you are handed a stack of forms to fill out, receipts to keep track of, business cards to file and other forms of paper that you have to decide what to do with. The following will offer up some options for turning that pile of paper into digital documents as well as some measures you can take to help stop the cycle of passing paper back and forth in…

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How to increase your iPhone’s battery life on iOS 7


Gigaom

With the introduction of iOS 7, Apple added a ton of new and exciting features to your iPhone. However, in order to show off all of these new features, Apple has decided to turn them on: all of them. There’s an opt-out method (of sorts) when it comes to their use, but depending on the age of the device, this can decrease both performance and battery life. The problem most users are encountering is that they don’t know how to selectively opt-out of the features they do not use.

The following will outline how you can fine tune your iOS 7 experience, taking advantage of the features you like and turning off the features you don’t. In the end, you may find that you won’t need to charge your iPhone quite as often.

Settings with the biggest impact

Conserve Your Battery Life

Dim the brightness setting: If you think that iOS 7’s…

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