Often, users were not informed and did not have the option to opt out; a 2011 investigation found that some apps could violate Apple’s GPS access rules. Until recently, app makers could also access unique user identification numbers without authorization and thus track the same users between different apps.
This unlocked powerful advertising techniques that helped many small apps gain a foothold, but also created a gray market for smartphone usage data and allowed giants like Facebook to create detailed profiles of interests. and the habits of users without their knowledge.
These practices have also exacerbated the compulsive use of smartphones, as each new information collected by applications made it easier for them to maintain user interest with personalized content.
Facebook data allows gaming apps to go “whaling,” targeting specific individuals who were most likely to spend money, whether it was good for them or not.
For Barnard, Apple has the ultimate responsibility for all of this, as it manages the App Store very closely. “Whether or not they deserve to be specifically blamed for the rise of these free manipulation games, they have consciously enabled it by not changing the rules,” he said. ‘[But] they are financially encouraged not to stop addiction.
As the power of smartphones increased, society began to reshape around them. Gloria Mark points out how our use of the phone is reinforced, if not forced, by social conventions, from waiting to check emails throughout the day to the common practice of searching on Google to answer the question. from someone during the conversation.
We use GPS so much that we forget how to navigate; our phones become security cards for our online services; we wait for elevators, buses or traffic lights, while being distracted.
Nowhere is this clearer than in China, Apple’s main manufacturing base and now its largest overseas market. “People born in 1980 had minimal contact with laptops,” says Francesca Yu of AppInChina, a Beijing-based company that helps app makers access the Chinese market.
“They are not familiar with office software or surfing the Internet… [now] everything is done through an app or webpage, from buying train tickets to paying gas bills. We no longer leave the house with a wallet, an identity document and a set of keys; instead, we just bring our smartphone and a power bank with us. ‘ Not just iPhone, but iWorld.
In recent years, Apple seems to have grown uncomfortable with its crown. After spending the last decade and a half making so many people so completely dependent on his devices, he now faces an perhaps even greater challenge: taming the forces he has unleashed.
It has worked to reduce the power of app makers, branding itself as the guardian of the privacy and well-being of iPhone users. In 2018, it introduced Screen Time, allowing people to track how much time they spent on different apps, set time limits for each one, and schedule “downtime” when their phone will gently prompt them to log out.
Earlier this year, it added Focus, allowing users to set various modes such as “drive,” “sleep,” and “work,” with different notification settings and permissions for each.
On the data front, Apple finally let users refuse to share their unique tracking numbers with advertisers in 2016, and in April of this year, it started forcing apps to ask for permission before accessing them. . According to analytics company Flurry, only 23% of users who receive such prompts actually accept them.
Apple has also promised iCloud customers a virtual private network (VPN) called Private Relay, which will hide their identity from websites they visit, and has released a one-time email service called Hide My Email.
Meanwhile, pressure from lawsuits and angry developers has forced it to cut its small business fees, and Google has upped the stakes by cutting all fees to 15%.
New tracking consent prompts are already wreaking havoc with digital advertisers, leading to an estimated 15-20% drop in revenue on iPhones.
Shares on Facebook, Twitter, Google and especially Snapchat have been battered as evidence of the effect, while Apple’s own advertising company – which is not affected – has taken on new market share.
Eric Seufert, an advertising expert who has written extensively on the crackdown, says it will simply push big companies to collect more of their own data rather than getting it from others, creating little benefit for user privacy while still collecting it from others. giving Apple more control.
Mark Griffiths says he is “very supportive” of the new screen time and notification management tools, as some of them have been shown to work in the UK gaming industry, where they are mandatory.
He believes that smartphones should be subject to similar regulations. Larry Rosen is skeptical, bluntly calling Apple’s features “not good enough” because they offer too little data and are too easy to circumvent.
Two of his studies tested whether smartphone users could moderate their behavior with simple strategies; in both cases, the use of smartphones was found to be higher after the interventions.
“Apple has a very good platform on which they could implement changes; there are a lot of things they could do… but that’s their business model, ”says Rosen.
“We’re at the point of this massive paradigm shift where something has to happen from above.” He wants a massive public information campaign similar to the one against cigarettes, but he’s not optimistic: “We’re not even close to that… we’re not at the top yet. We are continually getting out of hand.