Mozilla to Apple: Protect user privacy with rotating phone IDs
Mozilla has criticized Apple for its latest privacy marketing campaign, urging it to provide more automatic protection for users behind the scenes. The nonprofit Mozilla Foundation has launched a petition to enhance a little-known feature in iOS devices that could make it harder for advertisers to track mobile users.
In a blog post, Mozilla praised Apple for its privacy track record but criticized its latest marketing campaign, with the slogan “Privacy. That’s iPhone.” The iPhone vendor has produced tongue-in-cheek videos showing people in various situations they’d rather keep private. Mozilla responded:
A key feature in iPhones has us worried, and makes their latest slogan ring a bit hollow.
Mozilla has a problem with the Identifier for Advertisers (IDFA), which is a hexadecimal code unique to every iPhone. When mobile users click a banner, play a video, or install an app, media companies can pass that information to advertisers along with the IDFA. The code doesn’t identify you, but it enables them to build up a profile of your activities.
The IDFA is a crucial tool in advertisers’ quest for attribution. This marketing concept ties individual product purchases or subscriptions to the advertisements that promoted them. The missing link is an individual’s series of responses to those advertisements over time. This is what the IDFA provides, and Mozilla finds it distasteful:
It’s like a salesperson following you from store to store while you shop and recording each thing you look at. Not very private at all.
Apple has sided with privacy advocates against advertisers before. In September 2017, it shipped IOS 11 with a new feature for the mobile version of Safari called intelligent tracking prevention. This feature, which also hit macOS Safari the same month, used machine learning to better manage cookies. These are small files, different to IDFAs, that websites and advertisers place in the browser to identify users later on.