Apple's new privacy ad is a fun watch, but Facebook will not approve

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Apple just released a witty new ad titled 'Data Auction', designed to throw yet another dagger at the heart of data hoarding ad networks relying on building sophisticated profiles based on users' online behavior or preferences. We don't know if it was shot on an iPhone 13 Pro or not, but the cinematic feel and production values sure make for a grand effect.

This is a war Apple started some time ago, with probably the biggest, most brutal move by Cupertino so far being the release of App Tracking Transparency with iOS 14.5. This feature brought to light a practice that was known but somewhat hidden under to the surface and considered fact of life. App Tracking Transparency allows users to very easily stop any app or service from building a significant data profile based on the user's device and web usage.

Social network behemoth Facebook was among the more vocal entities against App Tracking Transparency, and no wonder: Mark Zuckerberg's company is estimated to lose close to $13 billion in 2022 because of it. Other popular and significantly affected companies include Snap, Twitter and YouTube.

User data privacy is something Apple naturally found itself pretty good at, due to its unique business model and positioning. Today, privacy has turned into a strategic weapon that Apple likes to exploit against other Silicon Valley giants. And boy does it exploit it often.

Some of you might remember that Apple released a rather powerful privacy-focused ad titled 'Tracked' last year around the same time. In a rather extreme way, it aimed to demonstrate what it looks like for different apps and services to track your data and behavior across your user journey throughout the day. Probably the most shocking aspect of it was to show a glimpse of just how many hands fractions of your data can go through.

Today's 'Data Auction' spot sheds light on the whole digital user data industry and the level of detail it can sometimes reach in terms of collected personal data. First before most, it's Apple's goal to raise awareness of these practices and thus, one of the iOS features it wants to highlight here is App Privacy Report in the iPhone and iPad Settings app, which shows a detailed look at how often your apps are accessing various types of data. Similarly, Safari Privacy Report can show you some stats as to how many web trackers have been blocked from following you on the web.

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'Data Auction' is pretty meticulous in going through the major ways your iPhone can help you disallow tracking behaviors. For example, at one point in the ad, the auctioneer sells Ellie's (the protagonist) "late night texting habit", her location data, her online purchase history and even contacts-related data. Of course, the company would be quick to point out that text messages across Apple ecosystem devices are fully encrypted, Apply Pay doesn't track what you're buying, and that no contacts-related details are ever shared without your express permission to do so.

The final nail in the data hoarder's coffin comes as Ellie enables Mail Privacy Protection, which blocks email senders from learning things like if you opened their message, whether your forwarded it or your IP address. This seems fitting as that's where the auctioneer started – selling her emails, specifically the "one's she's opened."

This is an ad, and Apple's is obviously not pulling any punches here; it wants to paint a grotesque underground world where user-identifiable data is being auctioned off to shady entities for their future business dealings. Of course, it's rather extreme in the way it represents the whole process. There is certainly a case to be made for the user and small business benefits of modern-day digital ad networks and how they operate. But many of Apple's competitors heavily rely on their ad businesses, and it's not going to refrain from using this leverage to slow them down.

At the end of the day, iOS is probably a tad too aggressive in blocking out any tracking behaviors right now, but it does put control in the hands of users, and that is a good thing. Here's to hoping this will help move the ad industry to a better and more sophisticated place.

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