Apple iOS 4 Puts the Iron Fist Into Opt-In Marketing

Last Updated Jun 22, 2010 1:43 PM EDT

Apple (AAPL) CEO Steve Jobs has been vocal about why the company had locked out third party ad companies: because they didn't respect consumers. What companies needed to do, by God, was have people opt in and act responsibly. All well and good, except that with iOS 4, the newest version of its iPhone and iPad operating system, Apple again shows that it wants others to follow what it says, not what it does.

Not only does Apple exclude ad networks owned by Google (GOOG) and Microsoft (MSFT) from signing on iOS app developers as clients, but it forces all mobile device customers to opt in to location-based marketing through new iTunes terms.

Just a few weeks ago at the Wall Street Journal D8 conference, Jobs spoke clearly about advertising on mobile devices and what Apple found wrong with the practices of some ad networks:

Jobs complained that Flurry Analytics had software that would harvest such information as device type and geolocation and that no customer was asked. However, asking is different from demanding, and the latter is what Apple has done with its own users in its updated privacy policy:

To provide location-based services on Apple products, Apple and our partners and licensees may collect, use, and share precise location data, including the real-time geographic location of your Apple computer or device. This location data is collected anonymously in a form that does not personally identify you and is used by Apple and our partners and licensees to provide and improve location-based products and services. For example, we may share geographic location with application providers when you opt in to their location services.
The paragraph appears in a section titled "Location-Based Services," so one could argue that it doesn't apply to everyone, until you remember that mobile advertising could be considered a location-based service and that all users have to accept the new terms to use iTunes:
When users attempt to download apps or media from the iTunes store, they are prompted to agree to the new terms and conditions. Until they agree, they cannot download anything through the store.
That means no electronic media, no apps ... and no device updates, no matter how critical. Mind you, there's still at least one major security flaw in the mobile version of Apple's Safari web browser.

You'd think that a company that faced Federal Trade Commission investigation over its business practices, including the iAd program, might be more restrained. But apparently not. It is possible to opt out of personalized ads, but users still get ads, no matter how much they pay Apple for the device or AT&T (T) or other carrier for communications service.

As Jobs said at D8:

Privacy means people know what they're signing up for. In plain English, and repeatedly, that's what it means. Ask them. Ask them every time. Make them tell you to stop asking if they get tired of your asking them. Let them know precisely what you're going to do with their data.
That is, unless you just tell them and stop listening.


Image: Flickr user Andrew Eglinton, CC 2.0.
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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.