Dec 14, 2020 - Technology

Apple debuts new privacy "nutrition labels" on App Store

Illustration of a real apple split with the apple logo

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Apple on Monday debuted its new privacy "nutrition labels" to all product pages for apps listed in its App Store.

Why it matters: The labels are meant to serve as an easy-to-view summary of how apps collect user data for users to review before they install a new app. Some developers worry that the summaries are too broad and could spook users into thinking they collect more data than they do.

Flashback: Apple first announced at its worldwide developer conference in June that by January, the tech giant would require app developers to submit information detailing exactly what types of data they collect on users.

Details: Last week was the deadline for all app developers to submit answers to a list of questions about the data they collect for all apps in all of Apple's app stores.

  • Apple says that all developers globally, including Apple, were required to answer the same questions.

Apple preinstalls its own apps, like Messages, and some of those aren't listed in the App Store because they can't be deleted.

  • Apple says the labels for these apps will be listed on product pages on the web.
  • That won't satisfy critics who say Apple's rules favor its own software by discouraging users from installing alternatives.

How it works: When a user visits a product page for an app in the Apple store, the page will show them the types of data an app may collect and whether the app will use that data to track the user or whether the data will be linked to the user.

  • Data types will be collected in three categories: “data used to track you,” “data linked to you,” and “data not linked to you.” 
  • "Tracking data" refers to data uses to link user or device data collected from an app with user or device data collected from other companies’ apps or websites for the purpose of targeted advertising or ad measurement. It could also refer to sharing user or device data with data brokers.
  • "Data linked to you" is data that is tied to a users' identity via information from their device, account on an app, and other sources.

Yes, but: Some developers worry that the summaries are too broad and could leave users with the impression that they collect more data than they do.

  • Last week, WhatsApp argued, "While WhatsApp cannot see people’s messages or precise location, we're stuck using the same broad labels with apps that do."

The big picture: The new nutrition label is a part of a greater push by Apple to claim industry leadership on user-first privacy practices. On its updated privacy website, the company says, "Privacy is a fundamental human right."

What's next: From now on, Apple will require updated privacy information when developers submit updates or new versions.

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