One of the biggest concerns with modern technology is privacy, as our smart devices know a lot about us and our habits. On April 26, Apple caused quite the stir with the release of the iOS 14.5 update and the App Tracking Transparency (ATT) feature. This feature gives users the option to opt out of tracking and data sharing with companies to create personalized ads, which means users now have more control of how apps track their behavior.
Devices with the update will now have in-app prompts where users need to directly enable tracking. All Apple devices have unique Identifier for Advertisers (IDFA) tags, which are used by digital advertisers to target and track ads. (When users decide to not grant access, advertisers don't have access to IDFA tags.)
However, apps have the opportunity to include a brief explanation as to why they'd like to track the user. (Facebook's explanation is "We use information about your activity received from other apps and websites to: show you ads that are more personalized, help keep Facebook free of charge, support businesses that rely on ads to reach their customers.")
“If a business is built on misleading users, on data exploitation, on choices that are no choices at all, it does not deserve our praise. It deserves reform.” - Tim Cook, Apple CEO
While the vast majority of iPhone and iPad users have disabled tracking, Facebook has pushed back against this aspect of the update, as they make money by powering ultra-targeted ads. (98% of their revenue is ad-based.) Even if a user disables tracking, Facebook, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, and Instagram can still track your in-app activity without asking.
Facebook took this feature as an attack on their business model, as they typically track users on their own site, third-party apps, and through the entire internet and create profiles based on habits and behavior. Advertisers use this information (location, searches, purchases, contacts) to target audiences.
“Apple made unilateral decisions without consulting the industry about a policy that will have far-reaching harm on businesses of all sizes. The impact of Apple’s changes makes it harder to grow. And for some, even survive” - A Facebook Product Director
Facebook has been urging users to enable tracking in order to keep Facebook and Instagram free, where advertisers foot the bill. Facebook has felt so strongly against the privacy changes that they've run full-page newspaper ads featuring the headline "We're standing up to Apple for small businesses everywhere" in The Wall Street Journal, New York Times, and the Washington Post. A whole page on Facebook for Business is dedicated to testimonials from small business owners detailing how the loss of personalized ads on Facebook could hurt their connections with customers, sales, and revenue.
The future of privacy seems to be uncertain as these tech giants continue to battle for power over and access to information. Only time will tell if beloved social media apps like Snapchat, Instagram, and Twitter will remain free. As for now, it seems as though Apple has an advantage as people identify with the need to protect data privacy and perhaps more importantly - transparency. Either way, it seems as though Apple won't be backing down anytime soon, which gives companies like Facebook no choice but to follow along.
"We believe users should have the choice over the data that is being collected about them and how it’s used. Facebook can continue to track users across apps and websites as before, App Tracking Transparency in iOS 14 will just require that they ask for your permission first." - Tim Cook on Twitter