Facebook and Apple spar over upcoming App Tracking Transparency feature in iOS 14

Facebook and Apple spar over upcoming App Tracking Transparency feature in iOS 14

Update 1 (12/18/2020 @ 12:25 AM ET): Added Apple’s recent response. Scroll to the bottom for more information. The article as published on December 17, 2020, is preserved below.

Back in June 2020, Apple announced that the iOS 14 update to its mobile operating system would bring in a mechanism to allow users to opt-out of in-app ad tracking by refusing to share the IDFA identifier with app developers. This feature, called App Tracking Transparency, drew ire from advertising giants for how it would impact their business. Apple delayed enforcing the feature until 2021 to allow developers to adapt their apps. But with 2021 approaching, advertising giants such as Facebook have hit back again at Apple for the feature.

App Tracking Transparency framework essentially requests user authorization to access app-related data for tracking the user or the device. And in a separate policy update, Apple has required apps in the Apple App Store to give users more details about the personal data. Each app’s listing will highlight key information about the data collected, and a summary of its privacy policy.

This policy update, coupled with the upcoming App Tracking Transparency feature, prompted Facebook to lash out at Apple with a series of full-page ads in leading newspapers like the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and Washington Post (via Bloomberg).

Facebook’s argues that these changes in iOS will extend onto small businesses, limiting their ability to run personalized ads and reach their customers effectively. According to Facebook, small business advertisers could see a cut of over 60% in their sales for every dollar they spent on ads as these ads would no longer be targeting the right customers.

Facebook also published a blog post on the issue, further arguing that the changes will force businesses to turn to subscriptions and other in-app payments for revenue, a piece of which will then go to Apple (though smaller developers have had their “Apple tax” slashed to 15%). Further, Apple’s own personalized ad platform is said to be exempt from the new iOS 14 policy changes. Facebook is also left with no choice but to show the necessary prompts for opt-out, even though they strongly disagree with the changes in light of the impact it would have on the businesses that the company wants to support.

Facebook continues the lash out against Apple by saying that it is behaving anti-competitively by using its iron-grip control of the App Store to benefit its own bottom line at the expense of app developers and small businesses. And for this reason, Facebook is also providing relevant information in the Apple vs Epic Games litigation regarding how Apple’s policies have adversely impact Facebook and those that make use of the social media giant’s services.

Apple has responded to Facebook’s critiques, saying in a statement (via TheVerge) that it is “standing up for our users“.

We believe that this is a simple matter of standing up for our users. Users should know when their data is being collected and shared across other apps and websites — and they should have the choice to allow that or not. App Tracking Transparency in iOS 14 does not require Facebook to change its approach to tracking users and creating targeted advertising, it simply requires they give users a choice.

Apple’s statement comes as Facebook is rolled out a second ad (via TheVerge) titled “Apple vs the free internet“.

This new ad claims Apple’s iOS 14 privacy changes “will change the internet as we know it”, and force websites and blogs “to start charging you subscription fees” or add in-app purchases due to a lack of personalized ads.

To add some more context to Facebook’s PR campaign, here’s what the new privacy section on the App Store looks like for the official Facebook app:

It remains to be seen how this war of words ends. Needless to say, there’s big money at stake at either side of the fence. Both companies would have you believe that their cause is the most rightful and just one. But the truth is likely to be somewhere in the middle, closer to the corporate ideals of profits.


Update: Apple’s response

Apple CEO Mr. Tim Cook responded to Facebook’s attacks with a simple response:

Mr. Cook’s response essentially insinuates that Apple is giving users a choice and not forcing them to opt-out of all tracking. By extension then, Facebook’s attacks indicate that users will choose to largely opt-out of tracking when given this choice. So it becomes essential for Facebook’s business that users not be given this choice.

About author

Aamir Siddiqui
Aamir Siddiqui

I am a tech journalist with XDA since 2015, while being a qualified business-litigation lawyer with experience in the field. A low-end smartphone purchase in 2011 brought me to the forums, and it's been a journey filled with custom ROMs ever since. When not fully dipped in smartphone news, I love traveling to places just to capture pictures of the sun setting. You can reach out to me at [email protected]