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Apple's latest ad is a brutal removal of everything wrong with the internet as we know it

Apple really wants people to take their privacy seriously. The thing is, hardly anyone does. If you ask, a lot of people will tell you that they do, but then they either do things that make it pretty obvious that they don’t, or they have no idea how much of what they do on the internet is sharing their personal information.

Because no one takes their privacy that seriously, Apple takes a different approach: humor. Today, the company has released another privacy-focused ad, and like its predecessor, it’s a humorous take on a relatively serious topic.

The ad follows Ellie, who stumbles upon an auction where several pieces of her online data are being auctioned off. First, her emails, including “the emails she’s opened and read.” Then her drugstore purchases, her location, her text messages, her contacts, and her browsing history.

The ad – as absurd as it may seem at first glance – makes a point. The internet as we know it was built to track all those things. Almost every website, app, search engine and social platform collects data about your activity and uses it to show you personalized ads.

Personalized ads aren’t necessarily bad. The internet is largely built with advertisers’ money. Many of the websites and services people use every day are made possible by digital advertising, and it’s arguably better that if you’re shown ads, those ads are relevant.

The problem is, most of the internet — the part built on personalized ads — is kind of creepy when you think about all the tracking it takes to know what’s relevant to you. For years, internet platforms got away with it. For example, Facebook and Google were usually able to track users without their knowledge, and certainly without asking permission.

Ellie is surprised to find out how much data about her is being collected and auctioned off, as many of us would be sure. That’s because the companies that track, collect, and auction your data don’t want you to think about what they’re doing. Why? Because they know that most people would prefer the internet not to keep track of everything they do.

If in doubt, look no further than Facebook’s revelation that Apple’s App Tracking Transparency (ATT) feature, released with iOS 14.5, will cost the company a staggering $10 billion in revenue this year. When given a choice, people choose not to follow.

In the ad, Ellie does just that, she pulls out her iPhone and ends the auction with ATT and Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection features. The point of the ad isn’t just that Apple is throwing pretty much every other tech company under the bus — it offers an alternative.

Obviously, Apple wants to emphasize its own privacy-related features. It is, after all, an advertisement. That’s the point – to sell you more iPhones with those features. You can agree with Apple’s stance on privacy or you can argue that it serves itself, but you can’t blame Apple for taking an opinion on privacy and then talking about the features it built to give users more control.

By the way, Apple’s biggest opinion isn’t that there should be no personalized ads or that all ad tracking is bad. It’s just that people should have a choice. If a developer wants to build an app that collects your personal information and shares it with Facebook, that’s fine, they just need to get your permission first.

That’s actually a powerful lesson for any business. If you’re building a product or service that relies on collecting user information and targeting advertising, you need to be honest about it and give those users a choice.

If your business model relies on users having no idea what you’re doing with their personal information, you’re doing it wrong. You owe it to them to be transparent about the true costs of the products you sell them, especially when those costs are their personal information. If you don’t want that, it looks like Apple will.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not Inc.com’s.

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