Apple for the first time has begun letting apps serve up push notifications solely for the purpose of advertising or marketing - but only as long as users of those apps agree to receive the ads. Yes, that means iPhone and iPad users can opt-out from getting push notification ads.
Here's everything you need to know.
What's happening to push notifications?
Apple recently updated its App Store guidelines with looser restrictions for push notifications. These types of notifications are a way for an app to send information to your mobile device even when you aren't actively using that app. Calendar apps might serve up helpful reminders, while a social media app might encourage you to view a trending post. Both third-party apps and Apple's own apps are guilty of this practice.
Apple for a long time didn't allow apps to use push notifications for “advertising, promotions, or direct marketing purposes", but that's no longer the case, as spotted by 9to5Mac. Apps of any kind can now send push notification ads when “customers have explicitly opted in to receive them".
"Push Notifications must not be required for the app to function, and should not be used to send sensitive personal or confidential information. Push Notifications should not be used for promotions or direct marketing purposes unless customers have explicitly opted in to receive them via consent language displayed in your app’s UI, and you provide a method in your app for a user to opt out from receiving such messages. Abuse of these services may result in revocation of your privileges."
How to block push notification ads
In terms of push notification ads, Apple demands that the app first seek consent from a user. They can do this via "language displayed" in the app's interface. Apps must also allow a user to opt-out from receiving push notification ads. It seems like apps can vary in their approach, so every app might have a different way of seeking consent and allowing users to opt-out.
That said, on iOS, there are two sorts of push notifications you might see: Banners (appear as a rectangle at the top of your screen for a few seconds before automatically going away) and Alerts (appear on your lock screen or in the middle of your screen when you're actively using your device). Luckily, Apple currently gives you the option to choose which you want, as well as to turn them off.
Simply open your Settings app, tap Notifications on the left-hand side of your screen, then swipe up until you see a list of your apps. From there, select the app you want to turn off notifications for, and then tap None to turn them off. At the moment, push notifications must be disabled on an app by app basis in iOS, as there is no way to turn of push notifications on all apps at once.
Disabling push notifications for an app impacts more than just push notification ads. You won't get any messages from the app, whether it's a helpful reminder or an alert about your friend updating their Instagram Stories. So, it's not an ideal workaround, and we think your best bet will be to wait until an app seeks consent. At that point, be sure to read the fine print and opt-out.
Why is Apple allowing this now?
Apple probably doesn't want you to be spammed with marketing messages, but, let's be honest, apps were already bending the rules for years. Haven't you downloaded a retailer app and received a notification about a sale? How is that any different from an ad? Add it all up, and Apple is likely just updating its app store guidelines for 2020, while also attempting to protect users by giving them the ability to opt-out.