Home / Tech News / This Week in Apps: App Store privacy labels, Facebook criticizes Apple over ad targeting, Twitter kills Periscope

This Week in Apps: App Store privacy labels, Facebook criticizes Apple over ad targeting, Twitter kills Periscope


Welcome back to This Week in Apps,  href=”https://techcrunch.com/tag/this-week-in-apps/”>the weekly TechCrunch series that recaps the latest in mobile OS news, mobile applications and the overall app economy.

The app industry is as hot as ever, with a record 204 billion downloads and $120 billion in global consumer spend in 2019. Not including third-party Chinese app stores, iOS and Android users downloaded 130 billion apps in 2020. Consumer spend also hit a record $112 billion across iOS and Android alone. In 2019, people spent three hours and 40 minutes per day using apps, rivaling TV. Due to COVID-19, time spent in apps jumped 25% year-over-year on Android.

Apps aren’t just a way to pass idle hours — they’re also a big business. In 2019, mobile-first companies had a combined $544 billion valuation, 6.5x higher than those without a mobile focus.

Apple launches App Store privacy labels

Image Credits: Apple

Apple this week launched its promised App Store privacy labels across all its App Stores, including iOS, iPadOS, macOS, watchOS and tvOS. The labels aim to give Apple customers an easier way to understand what sort of information an app collects across three categories: data used to track you, data linked to you and data not linked to you. Tracking, Apple explains, refers to the act of linking either user or device data collected from an app with user or device data collected from other apps, websites or even offline properties (like data aggregated from retail receipts) that’s used for targeted advertising or advertisement measurement. It can also include sharing user or device data with data brokers.

This aspect alone will expose the industry of third-party adtech and analytics SDKs (software development kits) — basically code from external vendors that developers add to their apps to boost their revenues.

Meanwhile, “data linked to you” is the personal information tied to your identity through your user account on the app, your device or other details. (You can read more about the program here.)

Axios compared how various social media and messaging apps compare as determined by the labels. Not surprisingly, it found that Facebook-owned apps collected more data than apps like Telegram, Signal and Apple’s Messages. It also found that Snap collected less data than the other major social networks.

Others noticed that Google had yet to provide any privacy label information for its biggest apps like Gmail, Googel Maps or Google Search.

Apple and Facebook fight over privacy changes

Also this week, Facebook took out full-page newspaper ads to attack Apple’s upcoming privacy-centered changes, alleging that the decision will have negative impacts on small businesses. With a forthcoming update to iOS 14, developers will have to ask users permission to use their IDFA identifiers for ad targeting purposes, and they’ll have very few characters to explain why it’s necessary. Most users, who are sick of having their data taken and resold without any personal control over that process, will likely just say “No.”

On the one hand, Facebook has much to lose as it already warned that without targeting and personalization, mobile app install campaigns brought in 50% less revenue for publishers. And the impacts to Facebook Audience Network on iOS will be even worse. But Facebook says it’s well-diversified enough so this one change won’t hurt its business as much as it will smaller ones run by “aspiring entrepreneurs.”

It also pointed out that Apple’s interests aren’t only about consumer choice. When developers make less money from the traditional targeted ads, they’ll turn to other means of generating revenues — like in-app purchases and subscriptions, benefiting Apple.

We should also point out that Apple does a lot of data gathering and targeting of its own. In your iOS Privacy Settings, when you scroll way down to the bottom of the page, then click on Apple Advertising followed by View Ad Targeting Information, you’ll find Apple’s own admissions of how it tracks you across its platform, including data from your account info (age, gender, location), and by what content you’ve downloaded on Apple Music, Apple TV, Apple Books and the App Store. It uses this data to target you with personalized ads on the App Store, in Apple News and in Stocks.

Apple, meanwhile, has presented Facebook’s tracking business as one that aims to “collect as much data as possible,” in order to “develop and monetize detailed profiles of their users,” in a “disregard to user privacy.” And while it’s true that Facebook’s network spans apps and websites, Apple is doing the same thing within its own ecosystem…of a billion iPhones and other devices. Devices where Apple’s own apps are often pre-installed and compete with third-party services in areas like books, music, TV, fitness, news and more.

Plus, Apple told developers when it launched the new App Store privacy labels this week, that developers don’t have to disclose the data collected by Apple itself. Uh, wonder why that is?

Instead, developers have to come clean about all the other ways they collect and use customer data, including if data brokers are involved.

The move of course is a big gain for consumer privacy, as it establishes a new baseline for the industry, lays bare the amount to which users are tracked and forces companies to re-establishment trust with their customers instead of sneaking behind their back to gather and sell their data. But it’s simultaneously an easy smokescreen for Apple’s own interests, and Apple should not get a pass on that aspect just because it’s also “a very good thing.” Apple wanted a bigger portion of the adtech market and to grow its subscription business and it wants to fight for consumer privacy. But it largely only highlights the latter when speaking to reporters or making public statements.

The risk of criticizing Apple for such a pro-consumer move is that it looks like a defense of Facebook. But this issue is too complex to require that you simply choose sides. There are ways that Apple can both tackle consumer privacy issues and be more upfront about its own ongoing data collection practices — and burying its data collection/ad targeting info at the very bottom of the iOS Privacy settings page is not it.

Twitter kills Periscope

Image Credits: Twitter

Twitter this week announced it’s shutting down its standalone livestreaming app Periscope, which it acquired in 2015. The company said the app had been “an unsustainable maintenance-mode state” for some time, and Twitter has seen its usage decline as costs went up. The app will no longer function by March 2021, but Twitter says it’s not giving up on live video. It notes that it brought most of Periscope’s core capabilities to Twitter over the years.

Users will be able to download an archive of their Periscope broadcasts and data before the app is removed and those that have been published to Twitter will continue to live on as replays.

Twitter has a history of making bad calls on its standalone apps that seemed like smart decisions at the time. The company was early to the idea that music and social could work well when tied together when it launched a standalone Twitter Music app in 2013. Years later, other companies have proven that to be true — TikTok said this week its app is driving hits, and got 70-some artists major label record deals. In 2020, over 176 songs passed 1 billion views as TikTok sounds.

Another idea Twitter killed, of course, was Vine, the app that could have been TikTok, had it lasted.

Now Twitter is killing its live video app, a project it abandoned, as everyone else is figuring out how to turn live video streams into e-commerce transactions. Today, Facebook and Instagram offer live video shopping, including in Instagram Reels, its TikTok rival. And TikTok itself launched its first big test of livestreamed video shopping in partnership with Walmart. Other big names who are investing in live video shopping include Amazon through its QVC-like Amazon Live, Alibaba through AliExpress, JD.com, Pinduoduo, WeChat and TikTok’s Chinese sister app, Douyin.

One could argue that Twitter just wants to stake out its own place and not follow the crowd, but its latest big feature was Stories, er, Fleets, a format that’s just about everywhere. And its current test product is Spaces, a rival to Clubhouse and a handful of other audio-networking startups.

Weekly News

Platforms: Apple

  • Apple launches App Store privacy labels.
  • Apple releases macOS Big Sur version 11.1, which allows iPhone and iPad apps without resizable windows to enter into full-screen mode on Macs with the M1 chip. HBO Max will benefit from this, as well as some mobile games.
  • The Mac App Store publishes a list of apps that take advantage of the new M1 chip.
  • Apple talks about how to design an App Clip URL more efficiently in new blog post. It also announced that App Clip Codes — the visual image that encodes a URL and can incorporate an NFC tag — are also now available for creation in App Store Connect or with the new command line App Clip Code Generator.
  • Apple launched iOS 12.5 for older phones that don’t support iOS 14. The update brings the COVID-19 exposure notification support to these older devices and other security fixes.
  • Apple releases iPadOS 14.4 public beta.
  • Apple publishes a guide to locking down your Apple devices, which could be particularly useful for domestic abuse survivors.

Platforms: Google

  • Google announced the Play Store is now open to more car apps, including navigation, parking and charging apps for Android Auto.
  • Google Play Store opens up to 22 new countries in Africa, Oceania and elsewhere.
  • Google announces Android Things platform shutdown is January 5, 2021.

Services

  • Amazon’s AWS announced the preview of Amazon Location, a service that will allow developers to add location-based features to their web-based and mobile applications. Amazon Location is based on mapping data from Esri and HERE Technologies, and includes built-in tracking and geofencing, but not routing.

Gaming

  • Game engine maker Unity teamed up with Snap to bring its Unity Ads supply to Snap Audience Network and bring Snap Kit to game developers. From the Unity Asset Store, game developers can use Snap Kit’s Login Kit and Creative Kit, the latter which allows users to decorate their videos with stickers or ad AR lenses. Bitmoji avatars will be integrated with Unity in early 2021.
  • PUBG Mobile tops the list of billion-dollar mobile games in 2020, reports Sensor Tower. Five games topped $1 billion this year, including also Honor of Kings, Pokémon GO, Coin Master and Roblox.
  • Amazon’s Luna cloud gaming service arrives on Android. Like the iOS version, the service works through the web browser in the U.S. It supports some Pixel, Samsung and OnePlus devices for now, with expanded device support arriving in time.
  • Roblox delays IPO to 2021. The company said the IPO performance of Airbnb and DoorDash, which soared on their debut leaving money on the table, made it too difficult to price shares.
  • A judge orders Apple to produce documentation from Tim Cook and Craig Federighi in the Epic Games/Fortnite lawsuit. The execs may also be called to testify, along with Eddy Cue, if Epic gets its way. Facebook also said this week it would aid Epic in its legal battle by providing supporting materials and documents, as a part of the discovery process.
  • Google’s cloud gaming service, Google Stadia, arrives on iOS. The service bypasses the App Store to instead use a web app. It works on both iPhone and iPad (iOS 14.3 is required). Most games will need a gamepad to work.