Part I: What iOS15 means to Location Data and the Tourism Industry
Director, Product Management,
Last week at WWDC, Apple announced the iCloud Private Relay, “an iCloud+ service that prevents networks and servers from monitoring a person’s activity across the internet”. Essentially, it is a feature that adds an additional layer of privacy protection to Safari browsing on iOS15. It does so by removing the ability for a website to track the one element that connects your browsing activity across the web to your physical location; the IP address. In this two-part blog series, I will walk you through what this move by Apple means to location data, what the long-term implications are on the Tourism Industry and how the classic puzzle of connect-the-dots just got a little more interesting.
Location Data today
Before I dive into iOS15 and the changes it brings, let’s take a step back and take a look at the current state of location data. In today’s world location data is synonymous with travel and tourism. In its most basic form, it refers to any timestamped geographical information on individuals. Having access to such information at scale, allows a Destination Marketing Organization (DMO) to build insights on entire audiences and their physical movement within a market.
The DMO, itself, does not collect the data, but instead buys it through location data vendors. These vendors primarily source location data through the advertising ecosystem (more specifically the bidstream) as well as online publishers. The reason for this is because the majority of location data is fixed around the IP address which is what ad networks and publishers get their hands on very easily. An individual (or traveler in this case) simply has to visit a site or see an ad in either of those networks while surfing the web. With this data, the vendor may need to add additional steps to map the location data to points of interest and “voila”, the DMO can see the traveler’s movement.
The IP Address has by no means ever been regarded as the most accurate measure for location. It is certainly not the only location measure either, but given its volume as well as its “relative” persistence and the ability to link across sources, it is the most obvious choice. To put it into perspective, think about how many websites you open on your desktop or mobile throughout your day. Within that timeframe how often do you change locations? The ratio is of course out of proportion, but when you consider that IP Addresses can be very inaccurate, the more it gets logged, the easier it is to identify the correct location at any one time.
With all that said and done, there has been a major shift in the industry around privacy protection and regulation. Most of the conversation is around how and when a user should provide consent to their data being tracked and shared. Some companies, though, question what data should be tracked at all. This is where iCloud+ Private Relay comes in.
The Forcing Hand; iCloud+
On June 7th, Apple announced iCloud+, a “privacy by design” upgrade to its long standing product. With the upgrade come three new features, one of which is Private Relay (the other two; Hide My Email and Homekit Secure Video). Private Relay boasts a more secure and private internet by hiding your IP address from the website and the websites you visit from your ISP and Apple themselves.
iCloud Private Relay works by adding two proxies between you and the website; the “Ingress Proxy” run by Apple and the “Egress Proxy” run by a “trusted” content provider. Such a setup ensures that each entity interacting with the other only sees the picture in front of them. Apple interacts with your request to open a website and the Website interacts with the trusted content provider.
- Apple and your ISP will be able to see your IP Address, but not the websites you visit.
- The Website you visit will not be able to see your IP Address.
Three questions you may be asking yourself:
Why not get rid of IP Addresses altogether?
The IP Address is a vital part of the Internet and how it is connected. Apart from giving the physical location, it also provides a name and path for information to be passed. Not having an IP Address is the equivalent of sending a letter without a return address.
What will the website see instead?
In the world of Private Relay, every user will have two options in their IP Address Location Settings: “Preserve Approximate Location” (the default), and “Use Broader Location.” With the default setting, the Egress Proxy will provide the website with an IP Address that maps to your general location. Depending on the market, this could roll up to an entire city, or a district. The second option takes your IP Address even further out.
What will happen to websites that depend on location data for their services?
Location-specific services, such as delivery services are suggested to seek explicit consent/permission from the website visitor to see their location. This service is available through Apple’s CoreLocation and provides granular location information.
“What does this change mean to the location data that you use now?” “Should you be worried about its accuracy?” “How can you prepare for the change?” Our second part to this blog series will cover all these questions and more. Hang tight and watch this space!