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Apple to invest £430bn in US; updates iOS with ad-tracking features

Apple has said it will boost its US investment to more than $430bn (£310bn) over the next five years, which will involve the creation of 20,000 jobs and a new campus in North Carolina.

Apple said it will allocate tens of billions of dollars to the development of next-generation silicon, including further research into 5G.

Most of the new jobs are expected to be in roles focusing on machine learning, artificial intelligence, software engineering and other technology fields.

“At this moment of recovery and rebuilding, Apple is doubling down on our commitment to US innovation and manufacturing with a generational investment reaching communities across all 50 states,” said Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO.

“We’re creating jobs in cutting-edge fields - from 5G to silicon engineering to artificial intelligence - investing in the next generation of innovative new businesses, and in all our work, building toward a greener and more equitable future.”

Apple said it currently supports more than 2.7 million jobs across the US through direct employment; spending with US suppliers and manufacturers, and developers working on iOS apps.

In Apple's home state of California, the company said it will aim to hire 5,000 people in San Diego and 3,000 people in Culver City in the Los Angeles area.

The firm’s new investment commitments come as it rolls out a new version of iOS - 14.5 - which focuses on user-facing privacy features.

Users will now be offered options directly on their device screen, in a pop-up permissions window, relating to how they are tracked online whenever they download a new app from the App Store.

They will be asked: “Allow [app name] to track your activity across other companies’ apps and websites?” after first opening each app.

Given such a blunt choice, it is expected that many users will opt for the “Ask app not to track” option, which will place significant limits on tracking features that developers and advertisers have relied on from iOS in the past.

Prior to the new update, apps have been able to collect and share data with third parties including personal information like location, phone number, what other apps are being used and an encrypted version of the user's email address.

The ability to restrict tracking has been part of iOS for some time; however, it has previously been somewhat buried in a Settings sub-menu. The new update moves the option front and centre to the Home screen and instantiates the choice on a per-app basis.  

While this will most likely not reduce the total number of ads that users receive on their devices, it will mean that should they opt for the enhanced privacy features, the ads will not be personalised to them as their private data should no longer be shared with dozens of third-party companies.

Facebook in particular has decried the change, primarily because its $80bn-a-year business model relies on accurately profiling users in order to serve them targeted ads.

In December 2020, Facebook paid for full page print ads in major publications arguing that Apple's change to iOS could hurt small business owners. Facebook is also known to have paid a Washington-based political pressure organisation to post multiple negative articles about Tim Cook online in an attempt to discredit him. The same organisation also started an online campaign to pitch Cook as a 2020 presidential candidate, in the hope of attracting the attention and ire of then-President Donald Trump to attack Apple.

Apple's chipmaking rival Qualcomm is also known to have been funding similar work, until the New York Times exposed the two companies' dubious tactics.

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