Since App Tracking Transparency was introduced last year with iOS 14.5, every iPhone and iPad app now has to ask users whether they want to be tracked or not. However, some developers have figured out new ways to keep tracking iOS users even when they opt out of being tracked by third-party apps.
A new independent research (via Ars Technica) has revealed how these developers have been bypassing the new iOS privacy features to identify and track users even when they don’t want to. While App Tracking Transparency (or ATT) does work, it still has some loopholes that let apps silently collect some data from the user’s device.
The researchers analyzed nine iOS apps that use server-side code to generate a user identifier even when App Tracking is disabled. The code seems to be provided by a subsidiary of the Chinese company Alibaba, which is able to track this identifier across apps. As a result, advertising companies are still able to target content to a specific user.
In total, the research compared 1,759 apps before and after ATT was released for iOS users. Although a quarter of these apps claim that they do not collect any user data, 80% of them still contain at least one tracking library.
Our findings suggest that tracking companies, especially larger ones with access to large troves of first party, still track users behind the scenes. They can do this through a range of methods, including using IP addresses to link installation-specific IDs across apps and through the sign-in functionality provided by individual apps (e.g. Google or Facebook sign-in, or email address).
Despite the data shown by the research, this doesn’t mean that App Tracking Transparency is useless. The changes in Apple’s privacy policies have in fact made it more difficult for developers to track users, and they can no longer get the same amount of data as they could before ATT even by using workarounds.
ATT remains one of the best features ever introduced to iOS, and Apple will surely make it even better every year.
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