Ben Thompson: Apple ad tracking feels "fundamentally unfair"

The Germans are wrong, John Gruber is right, but when you drill down into the details...

From "Data and Definitions," posted Tuesday on Stratechery:

Definitions matter. The opening paragraph of Apple’s Advertising & Policy page, housed under the “” directory, states:

Ads that are delivered by Apple’s advertising platform may appear on the App Store, Apple News, and Stocks. Apple’s advertising platform does not track you, meaning that it does not link user or device data collected from our apps with user or device data collected from third parties for targeted advertising or advertising measurement purposes, and does not share user or device data with data brokers...

“Tracking” is not a neutral term! My strong suspicion — confirmed by anecdata — is that a lot of the most ardent defenders of Apple’s ATT policy are against targeted advertising as a category, which is to say they are against companies collecting data and using that data to target ads. For these folks I would imagine tracking means exactly that: the collection and use of data to target ads. That certainly seems to align with the definition of “track” from macOS’s built-in dictionary: “Follow the course or trail of (someone or something), typically in order to find them or note their location at various points”.

However, this is not Apple’s definition: tracking is only when data Apple collects is linked with data from third parties for targeted advertising or measurement, or when data is shared/sold to data brokers. In other words, data that Apple collects and uses for advertising is, according to Apple, not tracking; the privacy policy helpfully lays out exactly what that data is (thanks lawyers!).

My take: Too long, but a must-read if you are invested in the mobile ad business. Thompson includes the 20 second ATT clip from WWDC 20 that led, 19 months later,...

to Meta announcing a $10 billion revenue shortfall, the largest but by no means only significant retrenchment in the online advertising space.


  1. David Emery said:
    John Gruber and I actually swapped emails on this. He summarized what Thompson missed in one great line: “The difference is whether a company’s system involves (Google/Facebook), or cuts off (Apple) the surveillance advertising industrial complex.”

    Thompson ignores the fact that FB and Google -sell data- to third parties, and that’s what I, at least, find so objectionable.

    June 22, 2022
  2. Alan Trerise said:
    Ben has half a point. I reject that tracking and targeting are synonymous. However in order to target you must have some data. Apple can and likely does track across its own apps and services. I believe this is called first party data. I am certain though they do not incorporate data gleaned from other apps and safari browsing.

    It would be interesting to know if they use data brokers for targeting for their own advertising of their products and services.

    June 22, 2022
  3. Jerry Doyle said:
    I suspect the issue for many Apple critics becomes one of Apple’s humongous, ever growing gargantuan IB of users now heading upward to 2,000,000,000 precluding the necessity of Apple selling consumer data to third parties. Critics are accusing Apple of essentially already having “locked-up” the advertising universe through its dominant platform and shutting off everyone else but Apple, itself. Consequently, Apple holds all those marbles in its hands for its coveted benefit. One can have a degree of empathy with why Mark Zuckerberg and others are hyperventilating and going ballistic.

    June 22, 2022
    • Steven Philips said:
      It’s kinda like the Miranda warning. If the police hadn’t misused their power it wouldn’t have ever been needed.
      If Facebook and Google hadn’t misused the data they collected then Apple’s actions wouldn’t have been needed either.

      June 22, 2022
    • Robert Stack said:
      Jerry: “One can have a degree of empathy with why Mark Zuckerberg and others are hyperventilating and going ballistic.”

      Please allow me to introduce myself, I’m a man of wealth and fame…(with apologies to Mick Jagger).

      Sorry, but I have no sympathy for the devil. You’re a better man than I.

      June 22, 2022
      • Jerry Doyle said:
        @Robert Stack: “…. I suspect the issue for many Apple critics becomes ….”.

        It’s not my personal exoneration of FB & others, but my suspicion of the view “critics” of Apple’s hold against the company’s ATT policy. They see Apple holding all those marbles in its hands for its coveted benefit.

        June 22, 2022
    • David Emery said:
      “One can have a degree of empathy with why Mark Zuckerberg and others are hyperventilating and going ballistic.”

      Uh, no. See my comment from John Gruber above.

      I found the ads in Apple News to be sufficiently obnoxious that I don’t use that any more. But at least Apple isn’t selling my data to others, and that’s the CORE DIFFERENCE.

      June 22, 2022
    • John Konopka said:
      It’s a curious thing. If I go to the website of my local supermarket I don’t mind if they remember me and show ads for things I might be interested in. I’m less comfortable with any company similar in size to Apple being able to know who I am as I peruse different parts of the site. I don’t know that Apple does this but do they use information about how you browsed the Apple Store when you are browsing through the App Store? At some point Apple (or Amazon or MSFT, …) become so large it doesn’t make much difference how you are tracked.

      June 22, 2022

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