A new feature is being introduced to iPhones and iPads in the week which is causing an enormous rift between Apple and Facebook.
It will allow device users to mention no to having their data collected by any app.
Facebook has been put during a spin by this because user data – and therefore the advertising it can generate – is what makes the corporate so profitable. This update could deal a severe blow to its business model.
What’s it about?
The row focuses on a singular device identifier on every iPhone and iPad, called the IDFA (identifier for advertisers). Companies that sell mobile ads, including Facebook, use this IDFA to both target ads and estimate their effectiveness.
The IDFA also can be paired with another tech, like Facebook’s tracking pixels or tracking cookies, which follow users around the web, to find out even more about you.
But when iOS 14.5 comes out in the week, the new App Tracking Transparency feature is going to be on by default. It will force app developers to explicitly invite permission from users to use this IDFA.
Surveys suggest, and Facebook acknowledges, that up to 80% will say no.
If you would like to understand what proportion Facebook already tracks you on other sites and apps, there is a helpful tool on Facebook.
Why is Apple doing this?
Apple has little interest in its customers’ data because it makes money from selling devices and in-app purchases, instead of from advertising. Plus it’s always marketed itself as a privacy-first company.
Back in 2010, Apple co-founder Steve Jobs acknowledged that some people didn’t care about what proportion of data they shared, but said they ought to always be told of how it had been being used.
“Privacy means people know what they’re signing up for, in plain English and repeatedly… ask them, ask them whenever,” he said.
More recently, in what many saw as thinly-veiled regard to Facebook, currently chief executive Tim Cook said: “If a business is made on misleading users, on data exploitation, on choices that are not any choices in the least, it doesn’t deserve our praise. It deserves reform.”
Apple is baking privacy into its systems. Its browser Safari already blocks third-party cookies by default, and last year Apple forced app providers in iOS to spell call at the App Store listings what data they collect.
And Facebook isn’t best pleased?
Facebook has warned that the app update could cut the cash earned through its ad network by half, hitting small businesses the toughest.
And it argues that sharing data with advertisers is vital to giving users “better experiences”.
It also says that Apple is being hypocritical because it’ll force businesses to show to subscriptions and other in-app payments for revenue, from which Apple takes a cut.
As it often does when struggling, Facebook has gone on a PR offensive. It took out adverts in national newspapers in December, featuring small businesses talking about how they only survived the pandemic because of targeted ads.
In its latest blog, Facebook seemed to accept the changes and promised “new advertiser experiences and measurement protocols”. It admitted that the ways digital advertisers collect and use information needed to “evolve” to at least one which will believe “less data”.