Podcasts and Privacy

podcast mic

Like just about everyone else, we love podcasts here at ProfHacker. This year there has been increasing attention paid to podcast advertising, in part because Apple turned on an analytics feature back in December. Analytics are always in conflict with privacy, though, which leads me to want to talk about Overcast.

Heather wrote a great overview of Marco Arment’s Overcast back in January, and everything she wrote is still true! It’s nifty app–and since her post it’s even added a nifty feature, “Smart Resume,” which jumps back a few seconds if playback is interrupted (by, for example, Waze directions). I love that.

But I wouldn’t ordinarily write a new post about a slight feature update to an app, no matter how much I like it. I was moved to write again about Overcast because of the newest update, released at the end of last month, which optimizes the app for privacy.

This is perhaps a surprising move, both because we’ve become habituated to websites handing out free content in exchange for minutely particularized surveillance and because just at the minute there’s a huge uptick in demand for podcast analytics. Wired’s Miranda Katz recently explained that “Podcast Listeners Really Are the Holy Grail Advertisers Hoped They’d Be,” which is almost enough to make me throw out my AirPods.

Arment isn’t having it: He changed the app so that it manages sync without an email address, so for the vast majority of users he has not personally identifiable data. He also closed one of the loopholes by which podcasts get tracking data about users–the embedding of tracking pixels in show notes. Would that more people in tech adopted this perspective:

Big data ruined the web, and I’m not going to help bring it to podcasts. Publishers already get enough from Apple to inform ad rates and make content decisions — they don’t need more data from my customers. Podcasting has thrived, grown, and made tons of money for tons of people under the current model for over a decade. We already have all the data we need.

If you want to support an app developer that prioritizes your privacy, rather than the all-consuming demand for more data, why not give Overcast a try?

Do you have a favorite podcast app? Please share in comments!

Photo “Eyeball” by Flickr user Bill Selak / Creative Commons BY-ND-2.0

[Updated to fix an autosave error that truncated a paragraph.]