Apple allowing ads in push notifications is a path better left unwalked

App Store
App Store (Image credit: iMore)

Apple has recently updated its developer guidelines, and in particular, we should pay attention to the changes to the rules about notifications. Because they're pretty gross, and it's down a road that I wish Apple wouldn't walk.

Developers will be able to use notifications for promotions or direct marketing thanks to changes to section 4.5.4.

Section 4.5.4 now reads thusly:

4.5.4 Push Notifications must not be required for the app to function, and should not be used to send sensitive personal or confidential information. Push Notifications should not be used for promotions or direct marketing purposes unless customers have explicitly opted in to receive them via consent language displayed in your app's UI, and you provide a method in your app for a user to opt out from receiving such messages. Abuse of these services may result in revocation of your privileges.

Look, this really feels like a gut-check kind of thing, and my gut says allowing advertisement in notifications is gross. It's bad enough that Apple advertises using notifications in its own apps (especially when you're not a subscriber to its services), but to allow it for developers now just makes me uncomfortable.

We're overloaded with advertising these days. We don't need more of it, especially for a device that's on us all of the time. It's one thing to encounter a lot of ads on the web on, for instance, your Mac. To have them on a device that you always have with you, buzzing or beeping all of the time, is user-hostile.

There are sure to be developers out there who won't use this feature. And there are going to be developers who use it sparingly, or maybe even in inventive ways that enhance your experience. If a favorite game gets a new piece of content or puts something on sale, then sure, I wouldn't mind knowing about it.

But you and I both know you're going to see company after company tries to abuse this system. Sales, new content, oh, and did you remember to upgrade to a premium membership? You should really upgrade to a premium membership.

Now, some might say that I'm overblowing this. After all, the new rules say that you can't send these notifications unless users have explicitly opted in. There needs to be explicit consent language and easy opt-out. Well, excuse me if I don't place my faith in an app review system that regularly gets its wires crossed.

I'd put real money on bad actors slipping by these provisions. Maybe they'll be caught right away. Maybe they won't. Maybe it'll be a big company, like Facebook, who says, "No, we're going to do it this way, and if you try and make us change it, we'll leave."

But also, people often just tap 'Yes' or 'Agreed' or 'Continue' on pop-ups on their phones. They don't read carefully enough. They'll permit these types of notifications, almost accidentally, and the next thing you know, they'll be spammed by the bad actors of the App Store that they've installed on their phone.

Maybe they should read things more carefully. But the kind of people that will abuse this system know that they won't and they take advantage of that. A lot of people are impatient. It doesn't mean they deserve it when someone takes advantage of them because they didn't read the fine print.

And what's to say that these rules won't be relaxed further somewhere down the road? Slippery slope arguments are a fallacy to be sure. Still, I think we've all be burned badly at least one time before by a company we trusted, so I don't think we can put complete faith in Apple here to hold this particular line, especially when they didn't even hold the previous line for themselves.

The world doesn't need additional opportunities to advertise to us. Keep it confined inside of your app. Opening this door is the wrong move by Apple, and I'm not excited to see how some developers will take advantage of it.

But what do you think? Do you take this as a bad sign, or are those among us worried about this just overblowing it? Let us know in the comments.

Joseph Keller

Joseph Keller is the former Editor in Chief of iMore. An Apple user for almost 20 years, he spends his time learning the ins and outs of iOS and macOS, always finding ways of getting the most out of his iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, and Mac.