Apple must rein developers in before they make a mockery of App Tracking Transparency rules

App Store on iPad
App Store on iPad (Image credit: iMore)

Apple released iOS 14.5 to the world yesterday, bringing with it the App Tracking Transparency (ATT) rules that we've been hearing so much about. Those rules mean apps must ask permission before they track a user from one app to another. It's all about making users aware of which apps are following their activity and giving them the power to prevent it. App makers aren't happy, and some are already putting the squeeze on.

One app that's already flouting Apple's rules is Sky Sports Scores, the app I use to keep track of football – proper football, obviously – scores. It's run by Sky, the TV company, and is no doubt backed by billions of pounds. But Sky wants that sweet, sweet ad revenue, too. So it's telling users that they'll need to start paying for their scores if they don't hand their data over.

Apple says you can't do that. Or, at least, Sky is getting very close to crossing the line. It depends on what you'd call an incentive, really.

Sky Scores App Screenshot

Sky Scores App Screenshot (Image credit: Oliver Haslam)

Here's what Apple says about ATT and incentives.

There are several prohibited custom-messaging designs that will cause rejection. Some examples are offering incentives, displaying a screen that looks like a request, displaying an image of the alert, and annotating the screen behind the alert (shown below).Don't offer incentives for granting the request. You can't offer people compensation for granting their permission, and you can't withhold functionality or content or make your app unusable until people allow you to track them.

Whether Sky Scores falls foul of that or not, the fact of the matter is simple – developers will need to be reined in if and when they break these rules. The data collected by ad companies is hugely valuable and developers will try their level best to find a way to coerce and guilt users into giving their permission to be tracked. I suspect the majority of people seeing the screenshot above will tap Allow because they're being told they'll have to pay in the future if they don't.

Now I come to think of it, that isn't really an incentive at all, is it?

It's a threat.

Oliver Haslam

Oliver Haslam has written about Apple and the wider technology business for more than a decade with bylines on How-To Geek, PC Mag, iDownloadBlog, and many more. He has also been published in print for Macworld, including cover stories. At iMore, Oliver is involved in daily news coverage and, not being short of opinions, has been known to 'explain' those thoughts in more detail, too. Having grown up using PCs and spending far too much money on graphics card and flashy RAM, Oliver switched to the Mac with a G5 iMac and hasn't looked back. Since then he's seen the growth of the smartphone world, backed by iPhone, and new product categories come and go. Current expertise includes iOS, macOS, streaming services, and pretty much anything that has a battery or plugs into a wall. Oliver also covers mobile gaming for iMore, with Apple Arcade a particular focus. He's been gaming since the Atari 2600 days and still struggles to comprehend the fact he can play console quality titles on his pocket computer.