How to stop Apple from targeting you with personalized ads

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Ads everywhere
Apple targets users with personalized ads, too.
Photo: Jo San Diego/Unsplash CC

A French lobbyist group is accusing Apple of hypocrisy over new privacy measures in iOS 14, which make it harder for other companies to track users. Why? Because Apple also operates a feature called Personalized Advertising, which capitalizes on user data to display targeted ads within apps.

Want to stop Apple from targeting you with personalized ads? Here’s how you do it. (And everything else you need to know about the new complaint.)

Complaint against Apple

France Digitale made its complaint Tuesday to the Commission nationale de l’informatique et des libertés, an independent French regulatory body that deals with data privacy. The complaint alleges that Apple users are “insufficiently informed about the use and the processing of its personal data.”

The complaint accuses Apple of capricious management and a lack of transparency:

“Apple keeps the right to choose who is a ‘partner’ and who is a ‘third party’ in an arbitrary manner, a quality which may change over time, without the user being informed of such a change.”

The gist of the complaint is that, while Apple benefits from targeted advertising, its upcoming App Tracking Transparency feature makes things tougher for companies like Facebook (which has been outspoken on the issue). The complaint is similar to one sometimes thrown at Apple regarding the App Store, which is that Cupertino gets an unfair advantage because it determines what apps can get in. This opens the door for charges of anticompetitive behavior.

Apple defends against accusations

In a statement to Bloomberg, Apple blasted France Digitale’s accusations:

“The allegations in the complaint are patently false and will be seen for what they are, a poor attempt by those who track users to distract from their own actions and mislead regulators and policymakers. Transparency and control for the user are fundamental pillars of our privacy philosophy, which is why we’ve made App Tracking Transparency equally applicable to all developers including Apple. Privacy is built into the ads we sell on our platform with no tracking.”

Apple CEO Tim Cook has spoken out repeatedly against other companies’ monetization of users’ personal data. One of the most prevalent business models in Silicon Valley, it fuels the success of Google, Facebook and other tech giants.

Apple argues that its approach to targeted advertising is different. One of the reasons is because it doesn’t track users across apps (although it does use information from multiple Apple apps). Apple also doesn’t sell individual users’ data, but targets according to broad, anonymized categories.

Apple’s Personalized Advertising

Here’s how Apple describes its Personalized Advertising feature:

“Apple-delivered advertising helps people discover apps, products and services while respecting user privacy. Apple’s advertising platform is designed to protect your information and give you control over how we use your information. Our advertising platform doesn’t share personally identifiable information with third parties.

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.”

The system serves up ads based on a variety of contextual data. This includes device information, location, App Store searches, the stories you read on Apple News, the apps you download, and more. It does not use Apple Pay or Health information.

Apple continues:

“We create segments, which are groups of people who share similar characteristics, and use these groups for delivering targeted ads. Information about you may be used to determine which segments you’re assigned to, and therefore which ads you receive. To protect your privacy, targeted ads are delivered only if more than 5,000 people meet the targeting criteria.”

How to opt out of targeted Apple advertising

Still want to be free of Apple’s personalized ads? Fortunately, the company makes it pretty easy to do so.

To opt out of targeted ads on iOS or iPadOS, go to Settings > Privacy > Apple Advertising. You can then toggle off Personalized Ads. You also can tap View Ad Targeting Information to see how Apple is targeting you with ads.

To do this on Mac, go to System Preferences > Security & Privacy > Privacy. Select the Privacy tab and then select Apple Advertising in the sidebar.

Apple says turning off Personalized Ads may “not decrease the number of ads you receive, but the ads may be less relevant to you.”

Turn off Location Services for Apple ads

In addition, or as an alternative, you also can turn off Apple’s location-based ads for the App Store and Apple News. To do this on iOS or iPadOS, go to Settings > Privacy > Location Services. Then tap App Store from the list of location-aware apps below. Under Allow Location Access, select Never. Then go back to Location Services, select News from the list of apps, and set location access to Never.

To do this on Mac, go to System Preferences > Security & Privacy > Privacy. Then select Location Services, and deselect News.

If you really want to stop all tracking, you can turn off Location Services entirely for your Mac, iPhone and iPad. However, this will adversely affect the way many apps work. If you’re concerned, try scanning the list of apps using Location Services. You can easily revoke access to any you don’t want knowing your location.

Over to you

Did you know that Apple did targeted user tracking for ads? Does Apple’s approach to personalized ads offer enough anonymity that you’re happy for it to do so? Does it smack of hypocrisy? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.