Apple's iPhone 12.

Monday marks a major moment for marketers, as Apple is rolling out iOS 14.5, a much-anticipated software update for iPhones that puts a new privacy tool called App Tracking Transparency in the hands of consumers.

Buried on an Apple update page that covers a litany of changes — from new voice options for Siri to new features across podcasts, news, maps, music, emojis and the new AirTag, among others — is a privacy section revealing the feature. The description simply states “App Tracking Transparency lets you control which apps are allowed to track your activity across other companies’ apps and websites for ads or sharing with data brokers.”

It means that apps that want to track user behavior and share the data with advertisers or other parties must ask for clear and explicit permission. Consumers will see a window pop up on their Apple devices, where they can agree or decline.

The tech sector has long debated over the merits of opt-in models versus opt-outs, which foist features, services or data policies upon users automatically. The onus is on users to decline, rather than ad tech firms and other parties to ask permission.

Apple’s description page for the iOS 14.5 software update.  Courtesy image

Online advertising businesses have dreaded Apple’s change for months, especially Facebook, which has all but declared war on the iPhone-maker. The latter vented to reporters, ran full-page ads attacking Apple and even called the Cupertino, Calif., company its biggest rival in a January earnings call.

Facebook appears to have pivoted since then. In March, chief executive officer Mark Zuckerberg said in a Clubhouse social audio conversation that his company “will be able to manage,” maybe even benefit, if the move prompts more brands and merchants to sell on his platforms.

The company then said in April that it’s testing a new feature in its news feed that’s designed to boost brand discovery, including giving users the ability to tell Facebook directly which topics they’re interested in.

It’s one of the clearest examples yet of how marketing will need to shift in the face of legislation and other calls for more robust privacy policies.

Of course, ad-tech firms have been working behind the scenes as well, looking at ways to bypass Apple’s device identifier to track users anyway and applying blockchain, artificial intelligence and machine learning to amp up their efforts.

But apart from this bleeding edge of “martech” innovation, there’s a more fundamental sense that advertisers and brands must step up now and convince consumers that handing over their data is worth it, so companies can craft better experiences for them. If people see the value in that, the decision will be a no-brainer — or so marketers hope.

This is much tougher than it sounds. In a recent survey by mobile marketing trade group MMA Global and AppsFlyer, nearly half of participants, at 47 percent, aren’t inclined to permit tracking on their Apple devices when faced with a request.

Brian Quinn, AppsFlyer president and general manager for North America, believes that marketers must get better about communicating over the issue. They need to mitigate the creepy aspect of being tracked by helping people understand what they get in return.

“Consumers find too much of what we do to be scary, which it shouldn’t be,” he said in a statement. “If indeed there is a fair and clear value exchange taking place, we are able to build better relationships with consumers while at the same time enabling a thriving, free app ecosystem.”

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