On September 10, Apple held their “By Invitation Only” event, unveiling new iPhones, Apple Arcade, Apple TV+ and iOS 13. While many of the event’s announcements were aimed squarely at the consumer market, there were a number of things surrounding the iOS update that impact businesses, especially when it comes to marketing and development.
For years, despite Apple working to protect customers’ privacy, companies have found ways to continue tracking iPhone users, often without their permission. Recent news articles have highlighted how companies are using Bluetooth to track individuals. Similarly, some apps try to use GPS to track people even when not using the app. Facebook is one such company that was recently busted for using precise location data to track users without their knowledge or consent.
As a result, in addition to iOS 13’s general facelift and improvements, there are a number of privacy-related features that will likely have a significant impact on marketing and development teams who have previously relied on these tracking methods.
One of the biggest changes to iOS 13 is how Bluetooth connections are handled. Prior to this update, apps could access the iPhone’s Bluetooth functionality to track a user’s whereabouts thanks to tracking beacons. Customers in a store could be tracked as they walked around to different sections, giving the store information about what displays and product categories were driving the most foot traffic. Similarly, shopping malls can use beacons to track individuals and determine movement patterns, store popularity and more.
That’s not to say that all apps requesting Bluetooth access are using it for tracking. Smartwatches, health monitors and the like will need to connect to their corresponding apps via Bluetooth. But it’s clear that many apps don’t need access. For example, Dominoes and Macy’s are two apps that request access for the purpose of tracking users’ whereabouts.
For marketing firms and departments who have relied on this technology, iOS 13 represents the end of an era. Instead of using Bluetooth to track individuals without their consent, marketing departments will need to find other ways to engage with customers. In some cases, this may involve adding an incentive for the customer to allow tracking. In other cases, it may require adding a check-in option instead of automatic tracking.
iOS 13’s change has significant implications for development teams as well. In many cases, Bluetooth tracking functionality was included in various software development kits (SDK) as a bundled benefit of using that particular SDK. With more and more customers choosing not to be tracked, developers will need to find other ways to make their SDKs stand out and provide value to their customers.
GPS tracking is another area where some companies have abused consumer trust. Facebook and others have been accused of using precise location data to track users, even when the app is not active.
iOS 13 offers an updated option to GPS permissions. In addition to “Don’t Allow” and “Allow While Using App,” iOS 13 includes an “Allow Once” option. When a user chooses this, the app is granted a one-time access to GPS functionality and the user will be prompted to give it access again the next time they open that app.
Again, for companies whose apps rely on GPS functionality, it will be increasingly important to ensure their app is using GPS for a specific reason, to offer their customers an improved experience. Otherwise, if an app’s request for GPS access is suspect or without a clear reason, customers may switch to an app that respects their privacy.
As with many iOS updates, iOS 13 brings a number of significant changes, not the least of which is improved customer privacy. This will undoubtably present a challenge to some businesses, not only those who may have been abusing these features in the past, but also businesses whose apps will simply be collateral damage in the battle to protect user privacy.
On the other hand, companies who are quick to adapt, work to protect user privacy and look for new ways to engage their customers will likely find new opportunities open to them.