Is Your iPhone Tracking Every Move?
Every move you make... Every step you take... I'll be watching you. You remember that song by Sting. But has Apple adopted this as their new iPhone advertising strategy? Read on to find out what you should know about a new feature on your iPhone that lets advertisers track and target you online...
The New iPhone Tracker - And How to Turn it Off
For a few months in 2012, owners of Apple iPhones were practically immune from being tracked by advertisers. But the iOS 6 operating system installed on iPhone 5s includes a new tracking feature. Much to the joy of advertisers, tracking is turned on by default; even better, it’s well hidden and confusing to turn off. Here is what’s new and how to disable tracking on your iPhone 5.
Previously, advertisers used the iPhone’s UDID – an unalterable serial number hard-coded into every phone – to identify each iPhone and deliver targeted ads based on its location and online activity. Responding to privacy concerns raised in Congress, Apple barred third-party app developers from exploiting the UDID. So for a while, iPhone users could not be tracked by advertisers.
But when iOS 6 arrived in September, it quietly included a new feature called “Identifier For Advertisers,” or IFA. It is much like a cookie: a randomly generated number created and assigned to each iPhone 5 that can be used to tell advertisers where the device is and what the user is doing online.
In some ways, the IFA is a better tracking tool for advertisers than the UDID was. It allows advertisers to track a user all the way to “conversion,” or actually taking the action that the ad is urging. Previously, an advertiser could only know that you clicked on an ad, not whether you downloaded and app or made a purchase that the ad inspired.
Now before you get too excited, understand that the IFA does NOT identify an iPhone’s owner personally; advertisers don’t know your name or anything else about your real life. (The UDID, in contrast, might have been used to obtain warranty registration and other personal info.)
It's also important to note that turning off the IFA feature will NOT result in less ads being delivered to your iPhone. It will only make them more generic, instead of being targeted to your online interests or activities. For example, if you have IFA enabled and you visit websites having to do with fashion and clothing, you'll probably see ads for Macy's, Nordstrom and Zappos. With IFA turned off, you'll see ads for things that probably don't match your needs or interests -- like car insurance, weight loss or credit scores.
That's the tradeoff. IFA's tracking and targeting gives advertisers a peek at the "generic you" in order to deliver ads that may be more interesting, relevant or beneficial to you. But users who find that creepy, or who are concerned about privacy may want to disable IFA, and that’s not so easy.
Turning Off the iPhone Tracking Feature
You would expect to find IFA among the “Privacy” settings on an iPhone 5. But no, it’s under the “General” category instead. Even more obscurely, it’s buried under the “About” tab on the “General” menu. Finally, on the “About” menu you will find the “Advertising” section.
The control for IFA is labeled “Limit Ad Tracking.” You must set this option to “ON,” which may be confusing to some users. If you want to disable something, the natural instinct is to turn it “OFF.”
Advertisers are pretty thrilled with IFA. It’s enabled by default, so most users won’t ever change it. It’s well hidden, and the method of disabling it is counterintuitive. Finally, it’s not well publicized; Apple’s iOS 6 blog page does not mention IFA, for instance.
Again, IFA does not track you personally. But if you don’t like targeted ads or the fact that your iPhone 5 is communicating with unknown servers, you now know how to disable this dubious new “feature.”
Your thoughts on this topic are welcome! Post your comment or question below...
This article was posted by Bob Rankin on 19 Oct 2012
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Article information: AskBobRankin -- Is Your iPhone Tracking Every Move? (Posted: 19 Oct 2012)
Copyright © 2005 - Bob Rankin - All Rights Reserved