As the launch of App Tracking Transparency with iOS 14.5 nears, Apple continues to defend the privacy-preserving feature against backlash. In a new interview with the Toronto Star, Apple CEO Tim Cook discussed App Tracking Transparency, as well as Apple’s ongoing legal battle with Epic Games.

As for the motivation behind App Tracking Transparency, and Apple’s broad focus on privacy in general, Cook said that it’s important users have control over their data because “there’s more information about you on your phone than there is in your house.”

You think about it, you search on your phone and so the information about what you’re thinking is on your phone. Your bank records, your health records, your conversations with friends and family, business colleagues — all of this information is on your phone. And so we feel a tremendous sense of responsibility to help users from a privacy and security point of view.

Last week, a report from the Wall Street Journal named a handful of companies involved in developing ways to skirt App Tracking Transparency and continue collecting data on users. Cook was asked about this in today’s interview, and he doubled down on Apple’s belief that App Tracking Transparency doesn’t prohibit targeted advertising, it just requires user consent.

The only reason why you would push back is if you believe you’ll get less data. The only reason you would get less data is because people are consciously deciding not to do it and were not being asked before.

When I was growing up, people worried about peeping toms, you know, people looking in the window and seeing what’s in your home. I’m not sure that happens very much anymore, but now you have this sort of thing happening on the web — somebody looking over your shoulder, seeing what you’re searching, seeing who you’re talking to, seeing what ‘like’ buttons you’re hitting and so forth, and then building a detailed profile of that.

That’s only OK if you say that it’s OK, in our opinion. We’re not against digital advertising. I think digital advertising is going to thrive in any situation, because more and more time is spent online, less and less is spent on linear TV. And digital advertising will do well in any situation. The question is, do we allow the building of this detailed profile to exist without your consent?

We think that some number of people, I don’t know how many, don’t want to be tracked like that. And they should be able to say they don’t.

Cook also touched on the need for regulation to help protect user privacy, and added that he believes App Tracking Transparency takes things a step further. “To defend the regulators, it’s very difficult with things moving so fast to predict where things are going,” he said. A company can move a bit faster.”

There is still no firm release date for App Tracking Transparency or the associated iOS 14.5 updates. Instead, Cook reiterated to the Toronto Star that App Tracking Transparency will launch “in a few weeks.”

Apple and Epic

Also in the interview, Cook touched on Apple’s ongoing legal battle with Epic Games. The Apple CEO said that Epic’s desire to allow third-party payment platforms in the App Store would turn the App Store into a “flea market.”

“At the heart of the Epic complaint is they’d like developers to each put in their own payment information. But that would make the App Store a flea market and you know the confidence level you have at the flea market,” Cook said. 

“The volume of people going into such a market would be dramatically lower, which would be bad for the user, because they would miss out on the innovation like we just heard with the four developers. And the developers would be left out because they wouldn’t have a huge audience to sell to. So nobody wins in that environment.

“I believe if we tell the story, the facts, if we can communicate those clearly, then I’m confident that we should prevail,” Cook said regarding Apple’s chances in the legal battle with Epic.

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