Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

Is Apple’s ongoing crusade against tracking in consumers’ best interest?

By Ben Foster, Director of Digital at The Kite Factory

On the face of it the answer is yes, it is a no brainer. The latest iOS update provides individuals with greater control over their data and how it is used. Historically, there have been many examples where data has been collected using under hand techniques without any form of permission and used immorally.

By providing users with a comprehensive consent framework aligned to the latest legislation from the ICO, Apple offers people complete transparency on who can collect data and what data they are able to gather. These are all good things, but are the tech giant’s motivations purely based on what is best for their customers?

Firstly, let’s put their business model in context: Whereas Google and Facebook are reliant on advertising to make up the vast majority of their income, Apple are the complete opposite. In the digital ecosystem oligopoly of Google, Facebook, Apple, and Amazon there is a huge number of politics and strategic manoeuvring of business focusses to gain a competitive advantage. These organisations want to keep you in their walled gardens, maximise the dwell time on their platforms and monetise your interaction as much as possible, hence Google’s significant investment in Chrome and Pixel handsets.

With the hardware market full of providers marketing camera functionality and fighting for the same customer purchase consideration, Apple saw an opportunity to use their high product and brand perception to gradually pivot towards privacy as their comms focus. It plays perfectly to the growing concerns users have over data -a world they know little about but have been exposed to thanks to plenty of scaremongering and sensationalising in the mainstream media.

We have seen the emergence and success of popularist narratives in global society in recent years and if you are cynical then you could argue Apple are simply behaving in the way that best protects and grows their market share.

The second element to consider is the mechanisms that allow the internet to function in its current guise i.e., the value exchange between providing free information and showing adverts to fund the content production. There are some exceptions where large publishers have successfully monetised their content into a subscription model, but they make up a fraction of internet universe.

iOS currently has around 50% UK market share, therefore if they continue to impose greater restrictions on tracking and ad placements, it will hugely impact content providers’ and platforms’ bottom line. In order to survive, functionality and information which was once available to all may start incurring costs in the form of paywalls or ongoing micropayments.

The model has been explored and dismissed by platforms in the past, but their hand could be forced as contextual targeting and other solutions fail the fill the gap. Where their rivals start floundering, Apple will seize the opportunity to increase their share of consumer screen time by producing and controlling content – a dangerous proposition given content is always subjectively written and underpinned by wider motives.

With internet access being debated as a basic human right and key opportunity to counter the increased dispersion of society, the switch to a freemium business model would affect lower income communities disproportionately. Given their power and influence, Apple could inadvertently have a significant impact on the socio-economic landscape.