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Apple Allows Ad Competitors on iPad and iPhone -- Except That It Doesn't

Last Updated Jun 8, 2010 12:33 PM EDT

When Apple (AAPL) changed its iOS (formerly iPhone OS) developer's agreement back in April, the company effectively blocked third party ad networks from the iPhone and iPad, because the contract barred third parties from collecting user data. Now the company says that it's open to other ad networks. But a new version of the developer agreement released yesterday still shows some significant restrictions -- and a not-so-veiled slap at competitor Google (GOOG).

According to CEO Steve Jobs in an interview at the All Things Digital conference last week, Apple shut down third party ad analytics access to iOS devices when the company realized how revealing the results could be:

Yup, analytic info can tell companies quite a bit, including when new types of devices first make an appearance in the world and what users do and when they do it. That's why advertisers demand the information, either directly or indirectly, as a tool to better target their activities. But Jobs sounded as though Apple was cooling down a bit, and the new version of the developer's agreement, as All Things Digital reported, seemed to confirm that:
You and Your Applications may not collect, use, or disclose to any third party, user or device data without prior user consent, and then only under the following conditions:

- The collection, use or disclosure is necessary in order to provide a service or function that is directly relevant to the use of the Application. For example, without Apple's prior written consent, You may not use third party analytics software in Your Application to collect and send device data to a third party for aggregation, processing, or analysis.

- The collection, use or disclosure is for the purpose of serving advertising to Your Application; is provided to an independent advertising service provider whose primary business is serving mobile ads (for example, an advertising service provider owned by or affiliated with a developer or distributor of mobile devices, mobile operating systems or development environments other than Apple would not qualify as independent); and the disclosure is limited to UDID, user location data, and other data specifically designated by Apple as available for advertising purposes.
As ATD's Peter Kafka pointed out, this language seems to specifically target Google for exclusion because, after the acquisition, AdMob is now "an advertising service provider owned by or affiliated with a developer or distributor of mobile devices, mobile operating systems or development environments other than Apple would not qualify as independent." Sorry, Google: No data for you.

Yet, I read this as still ensuring iAd's competitive advantage, Google notwithstanding. Apple will keep a lid on the types of information third parties can collect -- including the type of device and, possibly, operating system version, given what Jobs said last week. Furthermore, it's opt-in only. Will Apple similarly restrict itself? We'll see come July 1 whether iOS users are asked by Apple to opt in to ads on applications.

Even if the company does ask permission, Apple still has control over what data other ad networks are allowed to collect and has not promised that it will similarly restrict itself to the same set. Furthermore, Apple has final say over which ad networks have access to iOS devices -- even though third parties own the telecommunication networks and apps, and consumers have independent relationships with these companies. Forget the posturing. This is the ultimate ad toll booth, and advertisers will go where the data is.

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    Erik Sherman is a widely published writer and editor who also does select ghosting and corporate work. The views expressed in this column belong to Sherman and do not represent the views of CBS Interactive. Follow him on Twitter at @ErikSherman or on Facebook.