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Apple is starting a war over privacy with iOS 14: Publishers are naive if they think it will back down

What's New in Publishing 16 Sep 2020 06:55

iPhone users are about to receive access to Apple’s latest mobile operating system, iOS 14. It will come with the usual array of shiny new features, but the real game-changer will be missing – at least until January.

For the first time, iOS 14 is to require apps to get permission from users before collecting their data – giving users an opt-in to this compromise to their privacy.

This caused a major backlash from companies that rely on this data to make money, most notably Facebook. So why did Apple decide to jeopardise the business models of major rivals and their advertisers, and will the postponement make any difference?

iPhone with iOS 14 operating system
Ten four, let’s go to war! DANIEL CONSTANTE

The backlash

The opt-in is not the only change in iOS 14 that gives users more privacy protection, but it has attracted the most attention. Privacy campaigners will applaud the move, but the reaction from the media business has been mixed. The likes of American online publishing trade body Digital Content Next thought it would potentially benefit members.

Whether publishers win or lose very much depends on their business model and customer base. Publishers’ model of selling their product to consumers and selling space to advertisers has been badly damaged by the internet. All the free content online drove down physical sales, which in turn eroded advertising income.

Moreover, Apple doesn’t need to exploit customers’ data. Apple’s revenues derive mostly from hardware products and software licences. This business model requires large upfront investment and constant innovation, but is difficult to copy (due to patents, technical capacity and talent) and creates high barriers to entry.

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