Bloomberg’s reliable Mark Gurman detailed in a recent newsletter that the Cupertino, California-based company has internally tested some expanded ad ideas, including search ads in Maps. These search ads would work similarly to the App Store, where developers can pay to have their apps show up in higher rankings for certain search terms.
It’s less clear how Apple would serve ads in Podcasts or Books, but it may work similarly to search ads in the App Store. For example, publishers could pay to have their podcast or book placed higher in search results, or there could be dedicated places in these apps to place ads.
Apple TV+ could also see expanded advertising. Gurman notes that Apple put ads for its ‘Friday Night Baseball‘ deal with Major League Baseball (MLB) on TV+ — that could be the first of many ads on the platform. Gurman goes so far as to suggest Apple could launch an ad-supported tier of TV+, similar to Disney+ and Netflix.
Currently, Apple shows ads inside of the App Store, News app, and Stocks app across iPhone, iPad, and Mac. The majority of Apple’s apps and services remain ad-free, which has long been a point in Apple’s favour compared to other companies. Notably, Samsung eventually caved and removed ads from its pre-installed apps after tons of complaints from users and the media.
Expanding ads at odds with Apple’s privacy message
However, expanding its ads business could drum up issues for Apple. Users could complain about how Apple, generally considered a ‘premium’ brand, is filling its $1,000+ devices with ads. However, a more difficult thing for the company to navigate will be its self-imposed reputation for privacy, features like App Tracking Transparency (ATT), and how to reconcile all of that with expanding its own advertising network.
ATT, for those unfamiliar with the feature, forces apps to ask for users’ permission to collect and sell data tied to their personal advertising identity. Typically the first time someone launches an app, they’ll see a pop-up asking if they’re okay being tracked. Social networks like Facebook (Meta) claimed ATT cost them billions in advertising. While most people probably don’t care if Meta loses money over ATT, it’s worth noting that the feature could also hurt smaller developers and companies.
But, this all ignores the fact that ATT doesn’t actually do much for user privacy, since tapping the ‘Ask app not to track’ button only stops it from using the Apple-supplied advertising ID for tracking users across apps and websites. But this doesn’t stop companies from tracking stuff in their app, or across a suite of apps they control — for example, Meta can use data collected from Instagram to target ads in Facebook. Moreover, it doesn’t stop apps from tracking users with other metrics, with studies finding that some apps collect a ton of information about users’ devices to create a digital fingerprint of them and track them that way.
Apple’s apps don’t need to ask for permission to track users
ATT issues aside, critics have noted Apple doesn’t show the ATT pop-up in its own apps. The company claims this is because its system doesn’t follow users across apps and websites, which is what ATT is intended to prevent.
However, Gurman pointed out that Apple uses data collected from its other services and from users’ Apple accounts to help decide which ads to serve. Technically, users can opt out of this by going to the Settings app > Privacy & Security > and disabling ad personalization, but Apple will still collect some data about users for ads.
It’ll be interesting to see how this advertising push plays out for Apple. There may be pushback from customers who buy Apple devices expecting a premium or privacy-respecting experience, but will now have to deal with ads. I could also see companies like Meta raising potential anti-trust issues with Apple implementing a system that effectively reduces the effectiveness of competing advertisers while simultaneously ramping up its own ads network.