Tim Cook has a reputation for being soft-spoken and a little boring. His Twitter feed is replete with corporate platitudes. But when it comes to user privacy — “one of the top issues of the century” — he gets fired up.
In January the Apple chief executive railed against “data brokers, purveyors of fake news . . . trackers and peddlers of division . . . hucksters just looking to make a quick buck.” Cook said that if “everything in our lives can be aggregated and sold, then we lose so much more than data, we lose the freedom to be human”.
These are fighting words, and the policy to back them up was rolled out this week. In its new operating system update, the $2.2tn tech giant clamped down on how app developers collect data from its 1bn users in order to create personalised ads.
Owners of iPhones the world over are now seeing in-app prompts asking if they are OK being “tracked”. Users that click “Ask App Not to Track” deprive developers from seeing their IDFA — identifier for advertisers — a string of numbers associated with each iPhone that build user profiles as they move from app to app.
The new feature doesn’t actually give consumers a new power they didn’t have before; it merely took an obscure feature deep in the phone’s settings and forced it to centre stage. But this trick from behavioural psychology — opting in to tracking,…