Washington Post: iOS apps bypass Apple’s fingerprinting tracking block

Researchers at privacy organization Lockdown, in collaboration with the Washington Post, have discovered that certain iOS and iPadOS apps continue to track the user when they indicate that they do not want to be tracked. The apps use fingerprinting for this.

The Lockdown researchers analyzed the outgoing data stream of the ten most popular apps from the App Store, including the game Subway Surfers. This would show that most apps still communicate with third party servers and pass on tracking information even after using the ‘don’t track’ setting.

The amount of third parties that approach apps would not decrease. However, the apps would try a little less often to send information. That data includes the name of the device, the IP address, the available storage space on a device, the volume level, the chosen accessibility options and the percentage of the battery. In the case of Subway Surfers, 29 pieces of data about the device were passed on and at least three other apps shared “a significant amount” of privacy-sensitive information with advertising agencies, according to the researchers.

The privacy function that was introduced with iOS and iPadOS 14.5 does not work, according to the researchers. We dare to say even more, this option gives Apple’s customers a false sense of security. According to them, the advertising agencies also do fingerprinting. This is a tracking technique in which one can create a profile of someone with the help of collected data, follow the person in question on the internet and send these targeted advertisements.

Apple introduced App Tracking Transparency early this year with iOS 14.5. This requires users to give permission for each app to track their activities, which allows the developers to display targeted advertisements. This is done via a pop-up, which is shown when the app is first opened. Users can also choose to reject this tracking request by default. That option can be found under “tracking” in the iOS privacy settings.

iPhone 11 and iPhone 12

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