The study was led by an independent researcher as well as four other computer science experts from the University of Oxford, where they looked at over 1,700 iOS apps to determine the scope and effectiveness of the aforementioned framework. Researchers saw that even though Apple forced the developers to make tracking an opt-in feature would mean users were more likely to choose to decline the tracking, there were a large group of apps that tracked people without them knowing.
Today, Apple is notorious for bragging about how privacy-conscious its devices are, and the App Tracking Transparency framework, which it released last year to prevent apps from tracking users, is one of the primary contributors to this. Also read: Google’s Android To Get Apple-Like No App Tracking Controls, Which Is Bad News For Facebook However, a new study (highlighted by Gadgets360) has revealed that the system is riddled with flaws, and that certain apps may be gathering user data anyhow while slipping under the radar.
From a total of 1,759 apps, around 74 failed during the installation and instrumentation process. Thus only the remaining 1,685 truly were left for analysis. Nine of these apps were able to generate a mutual user identifier that could be used for cross-app tracking based on server-side code. The apps were found using an identifier generated by Umeng — an Alibaba subsidiary. However, libraries from Apple and Google were also found to be some of the widely used tracking tools.
They saw that even though the framework makes it more difficult for apps to track user data, it was still possible to track data in excruciating detail. They found apps were collecting device information that can be used to track users at a group level or even identify individuals probabilistically. They also saw real-world evidence of apps computing and agreeing on a fingerprinting-derived identifier via the user of server-side code that could be violating Apple’s policies on privacy and data use.
Also Read: Apps On Apple iPhone Track You As Much As Android Apps, Oxford Study Reveals Around 80 percent of the apps were found to possess at least one tracking library despite restrictions imposed by the App Store. Research also highlighted that Privacy Nutrition Labels that have been in place since late 2020 are not accurate and could be misleading for some apps. Researchers conclude stating that while devs of larger apps found it easier to comply with Apple’s new policies, many, by not declaring their tracking components could still pose an unexpected privacy risk. And this involves a majority of apps on the App Store.