As Whitney pointed out during her presentation, marketing firms and advertising firms like DigitasLBi rely heavily on their ability to track users’ interactions with online advertising. However, with a new software update from one of the world’s largest technology companies, the job of tracking users through advertisements is getting much more difficult.
Technology giant Apple announced a major change their macOS software at their Worldwide Developers’ Conference this past summer. The change, which Apple attributes to user privacy concerns, has recently drawn much negative attention from ad agencies. In the newest version of macOS, High Sierra, Apple’s Safari web browser is going to introduce “Intelligent Tracking Prevention” which, according to Engadget, “will stop you from being tracked by advertisers as you go from site to site, so that you no longer keep seeing an ad for that one thing you looked up on Amazon that one time.”
As software companies attempt to protect user privacy and advertisers attempt to deliver relevant ads to users, the world of digital business finds itself in a classic bind. Where should users and companies draw the line with regards to online privacy? Is our browsing history something that should be kept private? Do users share the same views as companies trying to protect our privacy? Is Apple going too far?
According to a statement released by six major advertising associations, these type of tracking blocks will prevent users form being able to enjoy ad-supported online content that would otherwise have to require payment to view. The group calls Apple’s move a “unilateral and heavy-handed approach” to user privacy. Think, how many times do you go to a website that delivers some kind of content for free, but has lots of advertising? The Heights is a great example from the BC community. The Heights is an independent newspaper, so they don’t receive money from BC but rather rely on advertising on their website for income. Advertising agencies claim that, without tracking and other advanced technologies that allow for the delivery of highly relevant ads, this content will no longer be available for free.
Apple, who already introduced ad blocking in Safari on iOS last year, joins Google in proposing and implementing ad-blocking solutions to their web browsers. Though these features can be turned off, it is unlikely that users will go out of their way to allow themselves to be tracked or to view ads on websites that they visit.
It is worth noting, according to CNBC, that Apple’s technology is not a total block on tracking cookies. The tool uses machine learning to identify “tools that are tracking users, like cookies, and only lets third-party companies digitally follow people for 24 hours after they visited a website. First-party companies are allowed to track people for up to 30 days, but if the user doesn’t return to the website in that time period, their data is erased.” With this information in mind, are the advertisers overreacting to Apple’s move? Is Apple doing the right thing? With software companies creating these blocks as default settings, how will consumers feel about this? To find out, I asked a couple of my relatively tech-savvy roommates for their input.
One of my roommates is in favor of advertiser tracking, remarking that if a service is going to be delivered to him, he wanted it to be done right. He added, however, that even with current tracking and ad-blocking technologies, he hasn’t found online advertising to be particularly well-executed and is generally dismissive of online ads.
Another one of my roommates is in favor of the added levels of privacy. He agreed with the idea that online advertisers can essentially recreate our entire browser history through complicated sets of first and third-party cookies. While he did mention that he didn’t have anything to hide, as most people do not, the idea of having a “big brother” watching over internet usage is unnerving. As a Mac user, he does plan to keep the tracking protections turned on in Safari to make sure his browsing history is not tracked by first-party advertisers.
As for me, I’m a bit more split than my two roommates. I do want any online services that I utilize to be as good as possible and I definitely do not want to pay for content that I was previously able to receive for free. At the same, I do want my privacy to be respected and using tracking cookies and other tracking methods puts that at risk. In this particular case, as a macOS and Safari user, I will be glad to accept the new technology which puts my privacy first. Since I use several different ad-blocking programs on my browser, I don’t think I’ll notice too much of a difference, but I will know in my head that I’m browsing more safely.
With the next version of macOS, High Sierra, to debut in just a week on September 25, we will not have to wait long to begin seeing the repercussions from Apple’s move towards greater user privacy. What do you think of the privacy vs user experience debate? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.
For more information on macOS High Sierra and the debate with advertisers, refer to the following links: