Facebook Campaigns Against iOS 14 Privacy Protections

image credit: Apple

published by Chand Bellur
December 16, 2020 at 8:18 p.m.

 

  • Apple’s upcoming iOS 14 update informs users of privacy issues, allowing them to opt-out of cross-app tracking and data collection.
  • Facebook is running a negative ad campaign against Apple, alleging that privacy changes to iOS 14 will hurt small businesses.
  • New privacy features in iOS 14 may make it difficult for advertisers to track users across apps and websites.
  • Users took to social media, ridiculing Facebook over claims of protecting small businesses.

Facebook Contends iOS 14 Harmful to Small Businesses

Much like an assailant uses a human shield to protect himself from harm, Facebook seems to be shielding its interests behind that of small businesses. It’s part of a new trend of politicians and corporations expressing their support for small businesses while advocating policy or strategy that mostly benefits the wealthiest.

Facebook today launched a massive ad campaign against updates to Apple’s iOS 14 mobile operating system. The new features make it more difficult to track users across websites and apps. While this poses challenges to businesses running targeted ad campaigns, Facebook can still collect user data from its apps. 

Apple’s new privacy rules allow Facebook and others to collect data and use it for advertising, as long as the user is periodically informed and can opt-out:

“On each app’s product page, users can learn about some of the data types the app may collect, and whether that data is linked to them or used to track them. You’ll need to provide information about your app’s privacy practices, including the practices of third-party partners whose code you integrate into your app…”

The fear is that since users can opt-out, most will. This would complicate targeted advertising, which requires detailed knowledge of individual proclivities.

In addition to full-page print ads in national newspapers, Facebook added new pages to its Facebook for Business website advocating iOS 14 reform. The company contends that small businesses will lose 60% of revenues earned from every dollar of ad spend. Facebook, with 98.5% of its revenues derived from digital ads, downplays harms to its bottom line:

“And yes, there will be an impact to Facebook’s diversified ads business, but it will be much less than what will befall small businesses, and we’ve already been factoring this into our expectations for the business.”

Facebook’s Contradictory Messaging

Facebook’s messaging on the issue, riddled with contradictions, seems like a thin veneer over its self-interests. Small businesses have other options for advertising. The World Wide Web offers better opportunities for targeting users based on content.

Furthermore, Facebook can still mine and store user data. The social media giant already surveils online user behavior, steering end-users to content and ads based on past behavior and predicted interests. Apple’s iOS 14 changes don’t stop this. They merely inform users about cross-app tracking, allowing them to opt-in.

Facebook Admits Most Users Will Opt-Out of Widespread Surveillance

Facebook’s concerns for profits and small businesses seem to provide little consideration for the end-user. iOS 14 doesn’t block widespread surveillance. Instead, it forces developers to inform users as to what data are collected. This seems reasonable; however, given the option, most will opt-out of tracking.

Apple’s developer website for new iOS 14 privacy rules clarifies that only data collected for tracking purposes require end-user notification. Essentially, if the data can be accessed from the device by another app or website, the app must inform users.

Facebook’s business model hinges on covert surveillance. The company itself seems to agree that most users wish to opt-out of widespread data collection:

“In June 2020, Apple announced a new iOS 14 AppTrackingTransparency framework, requiring apps to show a discouraging prompt, that will have hard-hitting implications for businesses that advertise on mobile devices and across the web.”

Facebook claims that personalized ads aren’t antithetical to privacy. Apple may or may not agree with this point. iOS 14 informs users of how their data are collected and allows them to opt-out. If people enjoy personalized advertising, they can opt for that. Facebook’s contradictory messaging claims personalized advertising ensures privacy, yet most will opt-out if given the option and pure information. This seems to indicate most people dislike the practice.

Mark Zuckerberg famously called Facebook users “dumb f–ks” for handing their data over to the social media giant. His disdain for end-users, duly noted, seems to permeate the foremost purveyor of surveillance capitalism. Apparently, he fears that most Facebook users are smart enough to opt-out of widespread surveillance, which goes far beyond small business advertising.

Facebook Contends Loss of Content Creators’ Ad Revenues Results in Paywalls

Facebook hosts content creators earning income through advertising. The company contends that Apple’s changes to iOS will ripple across Facebook, denying content creators their livelihood. Content that was once free will only be accessible through a paywall, as creators must earn revenues directly from consumers.

For this grim reality to materialize, a lot of events must line up. Realistically, content creators will move elsewhere if Facebook ad revenues decline. Most likely, they’ll move on to TikTok or create a website to host their content.

The point seems more about fear-mongering than reality. Facebook seemingly hopes to sway the public in its battle against Apple by presenting a possible harm. It’s more likely that content creators will ditch Facebook for greener pastures — perhaps even an iOS app.

Apple’s Ad Network Excluded from iOS 14 Privacy Policy

Facebook points out Apple’s apparent hypocrisy, as its own ad network isn’t subject to iOS 14 privacy disclosures. The social media provider points out that if customers wish to opt-out of Apple’s data collection, they must navigate deep into iOS settings to disable this feature.

The difference is that Apple’s consumption of data is all internal. They’re not sharing user data with third party companies. Instead, they leverage data within the Apple ecosystem to present users with personalized ads. Apple is well aware of who has access to the data and how it is purposed. The company profits from selling devices and services, not from hawking user data.

Much like Facebook, Google, or any other company, the rules don’t apply to the parent corporation. Facebook needs Apple, not the other way around. For now, Apple can ensure user privacy as they see fit. Facebook’s profitability is not their concern, which is likely why it embraces small businesses to combat Apple’s policy. The strategy is to frame the conflict as a David vs. Goliath battle; however, Facebook is a relatively large corporation.

People Reject Facebook’s Small Business Appeal as False Magnanimity

Many took to social media, calling out Facebook for hypocrisy. Critics insist that Facebook misrepresented small businesses as an excuse to protect profitability.

The move isn’t just about progressive optics. Investors may grow weary of Facebook if Apple’s privacy policies jeopardize profitability. Facebook’s “Speaking Up for Small Businesses” website admits that iOS 14 privacy features will decrease profitability.

Facebook’s media strategy fits neatly into the zeitgeist of small business appreciation. Politicians and large corporations seem to adore using small businesses to justify their mercenary ends. All the while, these minute enterprises shutter their doors at alarming rates. This isn’t Apple’s doing, and iOS 14 won’t be the prime cause of failing businesses.

Apple itself recently took advantage of small businesses to misdirect attempts at reigning in its App Store monopoly. The company recently cut the App Store fee to 15% for developers earning under one million dollars. Apple’s new small business program has little impact on profitability, as these smaller developers make so little in the App Store. 95% of App Store revenues derive from the top 2% of developers. The rest earn very little. The move, done for optics, attempts to defuse upcoming legal action more than support small developers.

 

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