Facebook is repeatedly under fire from Apple for accumulating large quantities of user data. In this regard, Cupertino-based Apple launched earlier this year a software update – iOS 14 – aimed at preventing Facebook from monitoring user movements outside Facebook-owned applications, i.e. Facebook, Messenger, Instagram and WhatsApp without their permission.
“The fact is that the debate over ATT (App Tracking Transparency) is a microcosm of a debate we have been having for a long time — one where our point of view is very clear. Technology does not need vast troves of personal data, stitched together across dozens of websites and apps, in order to succeed,” Cook said Thursday at the Computers, Privacy and Data Protection conference.
“If a business is built on misleading users, on data exploitation, on choices that are no choices at all, then it does not deserve our praise. It deserves reform,” he added.
Called App Tracking Transparency, a feature that will come as part of the next big update for iOS 14, offers users the option to opt-in to enable apps to monitor their activities.
By default, settings are switched off—possibly affecting companies like Facebook that make money from targeted advertising.
“Awareness of industry practices like data tracking is only the first step toward a better privacy experience,” Apple said in a statement. “Users also need the features and controls to decide how their data is used, and by whom. Apple has led the industry by building privacy protections into every one of its products and services.”
In October 2020, a coalition of eight civil and human rights organizations penned an open letter to Apple CEO Tim Cook regarding the company’s decision to delay the release of the new App Tracking Transparency feature in iOS 14.
In a letter to Ranking Digital Rights Group, Jane Horvath, Apple’s senior director of global data protection, reiterated that the company believes that “data protection is a fundamental human right.” Horvath explains that Apple delayed the App Tracking Transparency (ATT) property to give builders extra time to organize changes.
Moreover, criticising Facebook, Horvath said that the social community has “made clear” that its intent is to “collect as much data as possible” on its customers:
Despite Facebook’s continued attacks that Apple’s feature is about profit and not privacy, Apple has touted its intended feature as a valuable tool for consumers to have more control over their privacy.
If all this wasn’t enough, Facebook stooped to a new low in its latest attempt to disrupt the iOS anti-ad tracking feature. Facebook doubled its ad campaign targeting Apple in December 2020.
The social media giant has rolled out full-page advertisements across prominent publishing houses such as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and more whose App Tracking Transparency will crush small businesses that rely on IDFA for advertising.
IDFAs are unique to each user’s device, helping digital marketers to better understand how effective their campaigns are. It also blocks the ability of apps to monitor you via an email address, IP address, or social login.
Ironically, the headline of the ad states: “We’re standing up to Apple for small businesses everywhere”.
According to Facebook, “over 40 percent of small to medium businesses are using personalized ads today”. And the new iOS 14 privacy features threaten to kill those businesses by causing a revenue drop of as much as 60 percent per dollar.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg hinted at the coming changes to iOS 14 during Facebook’s quarterly earnings call on Wednesday, saying that Apple is now one of Facebook’s “biggest competitors.”
Zuckerberg later added, “Apple has every incentive to use its dominant platform position to interfere with how our apps work to favour their own, which they regularly do.”
Adding to the drama is the fact that Facebook assists Epic Games in the antitrust case against Apple, arguing that its app store is an illegal monopoly that favours Apple at the detriment of app developers. Facebook claims it helps Epic because it assumes that Apple only uses App Tracking Transparency to pressure app developers to generate revenue by charging consumers for apps and in-app purchases rather than providing their apps for free and relying on in-app ads for revenue.
Facebook’s move is particularly risky for Apple, as the iPhone manufacturer is facing an inquiry by the Department of Justice into its App Store activities and whether they constitute an illegal monopoly. In the meantime, Facebook is being investigated by the Federal Trade Commission, which wants to break up the social media giant.
Although Facebook and other advertising-related organizations have expressed concerns about the feature, digital rights and privacy advocates have praised Apple for it.
Despite the criticism, Apple maintains that it remains committed to the privacy element.
Google did not join Facebook in targeting Apple’s expected to feature, but on Wednesday Google wrote a blog post discussing the app tracking feature.
Google warned that app publishers would see a “significant impact” on their Google sales on iOS after Apple’s new policy comes into effect.
The function will be rolled out in “early spring” with the introduction of Apple’s latest iOS 14, the company said in a Data Privacy Day blog post. Apple did not specify the expected timeline for the introduction of the feature or the upcoming operating system.