MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
Are you an iPhone user? If yes, then you should expect to see messages in the coming weeks from the apps on your phone. This is because Apple has told app developers that they must send iPhone users pop-up messages to alert them that their personal information is being tracked. Well, NPR's tech correspondent Shannon Bond is tracking this story, and she's here to explain.
SHANNON BOND, BYLINE: Hey, Mary Louise.
KELLY: All right. I need to note that Apple is among NPR's financial supporters. So tell us; what kind of messages are we going to see, and why...
KELLY: ...Should we pay attention to them?
BOND: Some people may already be seeing these, actually, from certain apps, and it's a message that gives you a choice. Do you want to let this app track you across other apps and websites or not? And Apple is soon going to require all apps to send these messages. So if you're like me, you have lots of apps on your phone. You're going to get a lot of these pop-ups.
KELLY: Why is Apple doing this?
BOND: Well, remember, Mary Louise; most apps are free, right? We don't pay anything to download them. So these apps make money by selling ads. Many of these ads are personalized with data from all of the different things you do on your phone - you know, the workouts you're doing in one app, the things that you're buying, the posts that you're liking on Instagram.
BOND: Many apps share this information. For example of how this works, say you downloaded a recipe app. That recipe app - it knows who you are. It can go to Facebook or some other app and say, I want to show Mary Louise ads to tell her that she should upgrade to a subscription for this recipe app. Now, Apple thinks that that decision, that power should be in the hands of people. They should have to give permission before these apps can share that kind of information. For Apple, it's all about privacy.
KELLY: What if I don't want all the recipe apps tracking me? What if I get these pop-up messages, and I say, no, thank you? Then what happens?
BOND: Well, just obviously, if you say yes, you know, that's - nothing changes. But if you say no, the app will work in the same way. Apple actually says, you know, apps can't make, you know, the app working contingent on people saying yes to this kind of tracking. What it does mean is you won't get the kind of personalized apps that are following you kind of across your phone from app to app based on all this collected information about what you do online. You will see - still see apps - you will still see ads in these apps. But the key thing here is that they can't share that data they have about you with all the other companies that are looking at your phone.
KELLY: Which I imagine is not a pleasing prospect to the app companies. What are they saying about this?
BOND: Yeah. I mean, this is a really big change. As we said, this is sort of the basis of how many of these apps make money - most apps make money. And most people are expected to say no when given this choice. The most outspoken opponent here is Facebook, which is also an NPR supporter. And of course, Mary Louise, Facebook is in the advertising business. Apple is not. Apple makes money in other ways. So what Facebook says is Apple is trying to push developers to make more apps that charge their users money, like a meditation or a fitness app where you pay for that kind of monthly subscription because Apple takes a cut of those subscriptions, right? That's Apple's business model.
You know, Facebook and Apple have been at odds for a long time. These companies and their CEOs have fundamentally very different ideas about how tech companies make money, how they use people's personal information. This is a longstanding battle. But in this particular fight between these two tech giants, you know, Apple has the upper hand. It gets to set the rules for its phones. And, you know, Facebook can complain that it doesn't have a lot of choice.
KELLY: NPR tech correspondent Shannon Bond, thanks for your reporting.
BOND: Thank you.
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