Advertisers concerned iCloud Private Relay could put an end to fingerprinting

One of the new features announced at WWDC 2021 with iOS 15 and macOS Monterey is iCloud Private Relay, which basically functions as an extra layer of security that ensures users’ privacy while browsing the web. Meanwhile, advertising companies are concerned about how Private Relay could put an end to fingerprinting.

iCloud Private Relay is part of iCloud+, which is what Apple now calls the paid iCloud subscription plans with more storage. With Private Relay, Apple provides multiple security proxies that change the route of user traffic and keep it private. It’s almost as if Private Relay is Apple’s VPN for iCloud subscribers.

With this option enabled, the user’s real IP address is not shown to third-party servers so that they cannot track them across the web — which is known as fingerprinting. Pretty much all the advertisements you see on websites and apps are based on data collected by the fingerprinting process, so it’s no surprise that the advertisement companies are concerned about iCloud Private Relay.

As pointed out by a Digiday report, Private Relay comes to join forces with App Tracking Transparency, a feature introduced with iOS 14.5 to prevent apps from tracking users without asking permission. With ATT, Apple relies on developers to update their apps and ask users whether or not they want to be tracked. Private Relay is expected to considerably reduce user tracking at a deeper system level.

And herein lies the rub for ad execs. Apple has told them fingerprinting is off-limits but doesn’t seem to be aggressively enforcing this policy. Few execs, however, believe this perceived inaction will last. Eventually, goes the thinking, Apple won’t need to enforce a policy like ATT to rid its mobile operating system of fingerprinting — it will have the technology to block it from ever happening in the first place. The reason: Private Relay. 

However, this will probably result in even more companies upset with Apple. Nii Ahene, head of strategy at Tinuiti, warns that Apple needs to be careful to avoid Private Relay being considered “anti-competitive or too dictatorial,” as the company has been facing accusations of monopolistic practices.

“Apple needs to be careful when it uses its market position in a way that could be interpreted as either anti-competitive or too dictatorial,” said Nii Ahene, chief strategy officer at digital agency Tinuiti. “This is why there’s a gradual rollout of Apple’s privacy plan. The company communicates what it will do early, starts to have conversations behind the scenes, and then over some time the enforcement of the ATT policy starts to kick in.”

When Apple introduced ATT, companies like Facebook publicly criticized the feature since it directly affects the advertising business, which is responsible for the main income of these companies. Now, it’s only a matter of time before more companies speak out against iCloud Private Relay.

The new iCloud+ features will be available this fall for users running iOS 15 and macOS Monterey. Beta users who are iCloud subscribers can now enable Private Relay.

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