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Apple Allows Third Party Advertisers to Sniff Data, but Slams Door on Google's AdMob


Apple's adjusted its iPhone developers agreement concerning how third-party ad apps can collect user data—it's now allowed. But Apple's language dances carefully around the matter, and specifically excludes Google and its recent acquisition AdMob (which Apple had wanted to buy). This is war.

During his speech at the D8 conference last week, Steve Jobs specifically singled out the activities of companies like Flurry as being contrary to Apple policy on collecting user data. This cleared up an earlier move by Apple that had seemed to bar all in-app advertising systems provided by third parties (inciting all sorts of the usual complaints about monopolistic behavior by Apple's execs), since it specifically highlighted what Jobs' issue was: Transmission of user data to third parties without the user's approval. Jobs' speech made it clear that this sort of user info collection was something that third party advertisers would be allowed to do, providing they asked permission.

Hence the new tweak to section 3.3.9 of Apple's developer agreement. The relevant phrases are:

"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 for the purpose of serving advertising to Your Application; is provided to an independent advertising service provider whose primary business is serving mobile ads."

This is a clear and unmistakable approval of third party ad analytics data collection, with user consent, and it instantly banishes worries that Apple's own premium iAd system would be used as a tool to sweep away the competition in the nascent and extremely promising mobile ad market.

But there's a catch. A subtle, detailed and highly targeted catch. Section 3.3.9 permits this sort of third party ad activity if and only if the advertising entity is "independent." And what does this mean? It means this:

"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."

Name a big developer of mobile devices other than Apple? Google. Of mobile operating systems? Google. Of "development environments"? Google, and Adobe too. Apple's terms and conditions very carefully shut the door on any user data collection—the magical mojo that really makes targeted high-value mobile advertising tick—for Google under all circumstances, and Adobe too. This means Google's AdMob acquisition will not work as intended on the iPhone or iPad.

Is Apple bitter at Google's smartphone betrayal much? You betcha. And it's choosing to seal the door so that Google can only get limited access to the hundred-million-dollar mobile ad market that the iPhone is just enabling, with its hot new industry-leading smartphone, revamped OS, tablet PC, and iAd system (which has already got $60 million in bookings ahead of its launch). This really is war, folks, and there's potentially billions of dollars at stake. And having said that, it wouldn't surprise us to see the FTC checking over this sort of move to ensure it's not infringing some law or other.

To keep up with this news, follow me, Kit Eaton, on Twitter. That QR code on the left will take your smartphone to my Twitter feed too.