When Apple rolled out new privacy changes in iOS 14 that gave the option to block apps from doing any kind of tracking on their device, an estimated 94% of users decided to opt-in, rendering impossible almost any type of targeting on nearly 60% of smartphones in the US. While this comes across as a righteous move from Apple, it delivers a devastating blow to the advertising industry and the many companies that depend on it. In addition, it also brings a long-term toll on consumers, creators, and journalists that will not be immediately evident.
We’re not talking enough about this impact.
User privacy is of paramount importance, and further regulation is needed, but the way this change was implemented was a crass and selfish fix from a company that decided to create a polarizing narrative to a nuanced issue to contrive a differentiating feature. The communication associated with the release aggravates the situation by further distorting user perception and forcing other companies to quickly follow suit with similar one-sided solutions to avoid falling at a competitive disadvantage. Not to say there aren’t bad actors or companies that use consumer data irresponsibly or illegally, but these should not characterize the rest of the industry. As the saying goes, let’s not “throw out the baby with the bathwater.”
But while Apple is exploiting common perceptions around advertising and tracking to its own advantage, the blame for making this possible goes to someone else. The advertising industry, the operators, the trade associations, and the executives (myself included) who have focused all their energies and resources in the past thirty years to make advertising more efficient and effective, should have taken time to educate people on the benefits of a functioning, transparent, and privacy-compliant advertising ecosystem.
For this reason, every time people think about advertising, targeting, tracking, and the use of data associated with it, they immediately assume nefarious intent or an invasion of their privacy. We shouldn’t be surprised if 94% of the population opts out of it when given a choice.
I want to take a moment to highlight some often-neglected aspects of the use of data in advertising and encourage a more nuanced conversation about advertising and privacy.
Four aspects we should consider when thinking about advertising.