updated 06:54 pm EDT, Thu September 13, 2012
Advertising Identifiers replaces UDIDs, prevents abuse
Apple's forthcoming iOS 6 release will include an option for users to limit the amount of device tracking advertisers can do, an effort to prevent abuse of personal information and enhance privacy that goes beyond simply blocking cookies in Mobile Safari. The change will force advertisers and third parties to rely on non-permanent and non-personal device identifiers to help tailor served ads, though Apple includes a note saying that until all ad networks transition to using the AI tokens, targeted ads may continue for a while.
Apple's "about" box on the new setting to "Limit ad tracking" (which is off by default) says that "iOS 6 introduces the Advertising Identifier, a non-permanent, non-personal, device identifier, that advertising networks will use to give you more control over advertisers' ability to use tracking methods. If you choose to limit ad tracking, advertising networks using the Advertising Identifier may no longer gather information to serve you targeted ads. In the future all advertising networks will be required to use the Advertising Identifier. However, until advertising networks transition to using the Advertising Identifier you may still receive targeted ads from other networks."
In addition to giving users the option to limit the amount of information advertisers can gather, the new Advertising Identifiers replaces the use of Universal Device Identifiers (UDIDs), which can be tied to personal information and abused. Google was hit with a fine of $22.5 million dollars for bypassing Apple's restrictions on the use of UDID information in order to gain more information to tailor its advertising.
The company admitted no wrongdoing in the settlement with the FTC, though it did acknowledge that it had lied to Safari users when it promised it would honor Safari defaults to turn off third-party tracking cookies. The subterfuge was not the first time Google has been caught collecting personal data without permission; the cookie issue was a violation of a previous settlement in which the US government must monitor Google's privacy practices for 20 years due to repeated misrepresentations from Google about how much control users had over their personal information being collected and used.
The new setting in iOS 6 does nothing to block advertising, but simply forces advertises to gather information from ad responses or non-personal information like device type and applications used in order to determine ad targeting. The move also levels the playing field between ad networks, barring all networks from accessing personal details or setting permanent tracking tokens. It could be argued that this may prove advantageous to Apple's own iAd network, which never went as far in gathering personal data as Google.
Apple began rejecting apps that collect UDID data without user consent earlier this year, following political and user backlash over the collection of UDID data as an overreach that went to far in gathering data on users' web movements, application use and other data. Recently, an iOS developer called Bluetoad was hacked and over one million UDIDs stolen by hackers (who falsely claimed they'd stolen them from the FBI).