iAd targeting – what does Apple know about you?

iAds is the system where iOS developers fund their work by letting Apple insert adverts into their applications for the iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad.

Google make their money by displaying adverts that are possibly relevant based on what you’ve searched for and the history of how you’ve used Google’s services (search, mail, maps…)

So how will Apple choose what ads to insert into iOS applications? Here’s a quote from their iAds sales site:

And using our unique audience interest and preference data, your ad is delivered to the consumers most likely to respond and buy.

Standard targeting options on the iAd Network include:

Application preferences
Music passions
Movie genre interests
Television genre interests

Looks like Apple is using information gleaned from how you use iTunes on your Mac or PC. It might be that those who downloaded iFart and Jiggle(?) might get served different iAds than those that use ‘Shakespeare’ regularly.

Apple could go further. They could also analyse how you use your iOS device. They could profile you based on which books you buy using iBooks and which videos you watch on YouTube and Vimeo. Could they tell your level of education by analysing your spelling and grammar? They could also judge you by your friends (using the social networking features of iTunes, or even from your Contacts list)…

In the long run, Apple might even be able to detect your state on using your iPhone: “Judging by app use, they seem to be working at the moment. Best not to serve frivolous content” or “The Twitter list they are using is a list of tweets by entertainers, no need to show work-related iAds.”

This sort of analysis will be much more accurate than what Facebook offers its advertisers. However much time people spend in Facebook, Apple is able to gather more information about its users by controlling the devices used to access the internet and all forms of media.

In an ideal world I’d see no commercials, but if I want others to fund TV, radio, podcasts and iOS apps, I’ll put up with some ads. If so, they might as well be relevant to me. If I’ve just bought a car, it’ll be a waste of my time and their money for the media to serve me any car ads for a while. However, in return for this kind of convenience, I need to give up some privacy.

I wonder if the default user option for this kind of profiling be an opt-in or opt-out…

PS: iAds might not just be only for iOS apps

An imaginary ‘media payment preferences’ control
An imaginary ‘media payment preferences’ control.

Fun fact: Apple got a patent for inserting adverts into media at playback back in June 2008. I wrote about the implications back then.

  1. djh said:

    I think the prospect of analysing your spelling to determine your level of education is an interesting concept but I think that might be thinking a bit too far along the spectrum to make it ‘anonymous’ as such!

  2. Aris said:

    Relative ‘privacy’ is something I’m willing to give up (who cares if someone knows what movies I rent from iTunes) for well-targeted ads. I’m all for free content, and if iAds is the way to go in order to generate more free content on the App Store, then so be it.

    Apple made iAds out to be quite phenomenal at the iOS 4 (then iPhone OS 4) keynote. If they can follow through, and deliver interesting, innovative iAds, I don’t think they’ll have any issues with irate customers, angry about their personal tastes being used in such a way.

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