Skip to main content

Apple’s new App Privacy labels are disconcertingly inaccurate when put to test

Apple is often lauded as the king of privacy among the tech giants, and to a certain extent, it is. After all, unlike Facebook and Google, Apple’s business model is built around selling hardware and services — not advertising to you. But the company’s new “App Privacy” label feature, which was added to the App Store last month, may be better in theory than it is in practice — at least for now.

According to a new report from The Washington Post, the privacy labels in the App Store may not be as accurate as they should be. The report notes that many apps that say they don’t collect user data actually do, and often send that data straight to the likes of Google and Facebook.

So how could this happen? Well, it turns out that the app privacy labels aren’t actually constructed based on Apple’s scanning of an app itself. They’re self-reported, so many apps could say that they don’t collect user data, but then turn around and do it anyway. Examples include destressing app Satisfying Slime, Match 3D, PBS Kids Video, and more, according to The Post’s report. Apple’s App Store review process is supposed to check the claims, but with millions of apps being updated at any time, it’s an impossible task.

Apps self-report their collection policies … which led to the exact results you’d expect.

This is a major issue — if not for users’ privacy, then at least for trust in Apple’s systems. For example, iPhone users can only download apps straight from the App Store. Apple’s reasoning for this is that it ensures that users steer clear of malware, privacy issues, and other problems that could arise from downloading apps from sketchy sources. But if Apple doesn’t actually keep you safe, that narrative kind of falls apart.

There are a few arguments in Apple’s defense here. For starters, it’s not necessarily the company’s fault that developers are lying to customers, even though it is Apple’s fault that it makes it dead simple for apps to lie and get Apple’s seal of approval. Thankfully, an upcoming iOS feature will block all apps from tracking a phone’s unique ad identifier, unless given express consent from the user. This will radically change how companies like Facebook and Google track users on their mobile devices, no matter what their App Store disclosures may say.

As a fix for this issue, Apple should either verify developers’ claims before publishing them as true, remove the labels as a whole, or at the very least, make it abundantly clear that these labels are self-reported and may not be completely accurate.

Editors' Recommendations

Christian de Looper
Christian’s interest in technology began as a child in Australia, when he stumbled upon a computer at a garage sale that he…
Apple cracks down on ChatGPT apps with harsh age ratings
App Store on-screen illustration

Apple is in a deadlock with email app BlueMail over its decision to give the app's latest update an age restriction of 17 and older due to its ChatGPT integration.

Apple is currently blocking the update because the app's developer Blix Inc. disagrees with the company's stance to give BlueMail an age restriction, having rejected the brand's update application last week, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Read more
The EU is preparing an App Store change that Apple won’t like
App Store displayed on an iPhone 14 Pro against a pink background

The EU is narrowing its focus on Apple's App Store, a new report says. Coming from the Financial Times, which cites three sources familiar with the matter, the body now plans to focus on Apple's ban against linking to subscriptions off the App Store. The EU confirmed this report in an update to its statement of objections shared on Tuesday morning.

Where this policy might have been merely annoying at first, the color of it changed once Apple began offering competitors to rival services it had banned from advertising in the store.

Read more
I review phones for a living — here are the 10 apps I can’t live without
iPhone 14 Pro with custom home screen on Mickey Mouse phone holder next to flowers

For most of my life, I think I’ve had a pretty unique career path among my family and friends. Ever since I got the original iPhone, I’ve turned my love for writing into writing about technology, specifically mobile phones. Though I’ve pretty much been iPhone-only for most of my career, since I started at Digital Trends, I’ve been opening up to the world of Android.

Now that I’m checking out both iPhone and Android phones, the world of apps for me has expanded quite a bit. But regardless of what device I’m using, there are some apps that I need before anything else. Here are the first apps that I install when I get a new phone.
1Password (iOS and Android)

Read more