Apple’s patent raised eyebrows
On July 16, 2015, Apple was granted a patent for a “Method and System for Delivering Advertisements to Mobile Terminals.” This is the abstract for the patent:
Method and system for targeted advertising of goods and services to users of mobile terminals, based for example on the users’ profile. Goods and services are marketed to particular target groups of users sharing a common profile which may be selected to increase the likelihood of the users responding to the advertisements and purchasing the advertised goods and services. The common profile of users may be based on the amount of pre-paid credit available to each user. An advantage of such targeted advertising is that only advertisements for goods and services which particular users can afford, are delivered to these users.
You can read the patent here, if you enjoy dry and technical reading. Really, it’s like watching paint dry.
Let’s talk about the rumors
There’s been a lot of rumors going around the Internet about this patent. “Apple is going to check your credit card balance.” “Apple is working on a system to show you ads based on your credit card balance.” The headlines of techie blogs sound ominous, but the reality is that it’s going to be difficult for Apple to get your credit card balance.
Let’s say a merchant does have your credit card number. That doesn’t mean they can call and retrieve the balance. Although it might be available on your credit report, this information is also highly regulated. It’s a little far-fetched for Apple to get permission to use that information on your report for ad targeting.
What’s actually likely to happen is already happening
What is likely? Apple is very likely to target you based on prior purchases and your shopping history. Many companies already do this, but it does appear that Apple is going to be analyzing your data about your available credit to make purchase suggestions. This is almost a turnaround from a statement made by Tim Cook at a dinner hosted by the Electronic Privacy Information Center:
“Our privacy is being attacked on multiple fronts… I’m speaking to you from Silicon Valley, where some of the most prominent and successful companies have built their businesses by lulling their customers into complacency about their personal information. They’re gobbling up everything they can learn about you and trying to monetize it. We think that’s wrong. And it’s not the kind of company that Apple wants to be.”
Advertisers have more access to data than ever before. It might benefit them to use the data to infer which customers can actually afford their product. Instead of focusing on driving desire for a product, target those individuals who will make the sale. After all, isn’t that the whole point of advertising, making the sale?