Apple Moves to Block iPhone App-Scanning

In order to decide what ad to show to a person, Facebook and Twitter have sometimes drawn on data about other apps that are already installed on that person’s phone. If that person has downloaded a lot of games, including ones that cost money, they may be shown an ad for a paid game that they don’t already have.

But now Apple is quietly moving to prevent app developers from accessing that app-download data for ad targeting purposes as part of its attempt to appear more privacy-friendly.

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Ad networks will still be able to target ads based on data gleaned from other sources—namely, special identifiers for advertising, or IDFAs, which are like a Web browser cookie and are tied to a specific Apple device. If a person installs an app, that app can get the IDFA of the device owner and pass it to a mobile ad network that sells ad space for the app. The mobile ad network can theoretically get the same IDFA from different apps (if those apps also let the network sell their ad inventory) and that way it can built a list of apps that a particular user has downloaded.

Amir Efrati and Doug Crets commented on this article.
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“Ad networks found this information valuable because they could use it to segment users into more lucrative bids.”