What we’re seeing unfold in this fight is quite complicated. In fact, you’re probably thinking what’s this beef all about?
Apple makes phones, tablets, laptops and more. Facebook makes social networks.
Why the slug fest?
The simple answer?
Different views of our privacy and it’s playing out big time in Apple’s new iOS 14.5.
But that’s just the first round.
This is a fight that could shape the future of the internet and certainly, the next wave of computing.
Yeah, it’s a lot. Let’s explain this all, starting with what brought this to a head.
iOS 14.5. And a new feature called App Tracking Transparency.
Now, for years, every iPhone has had a secret string of numbers inside it. It’s called the IDFA, Identifier for Advertisers.
We will call it your very own ad tracking number and it’s used to help apps identify you and know what you are up to on your phone.
So for instance, lets say Mr. Cook, let’s call him user 096006, has decided to relax and download a new meditation app.
The app records his number, and here’s the thing, the Facebook app and other apps on his phone also have that number. If the same meditation app wants to try to get Mr. Cook on its mega super relaxing subscription plan, it can go to Facebook and say hey, let me advertise to user 096006.
If Facebook has that number and there’s a match, boom, the personalized ad shows up in Mr. Cook’s Facebook feed.
There’s another way this is all used.
Say that meditation app shows ad in its feed, it can use Facebook’s Ad Network, which again uses that number to keep track of your other interests and feed you highly personalized ads.
So you get it, these users numbers are good for Facebook and other social networks that wanna know what we are doing on our phones. And they are good for businesses that want us to buy stuff.
But now with iOS 14.5, Apple turns off that ad tracker by default. If an app wants to track you using that number, it will have to ask.
If Mr. Cook taps Ask App Not to Track, then his mediation app won’t get his number.
Don’t want those popups at all?
You can opt out of all tracking by going to Settings > Privacy > Tracking, and turning off Allow Apps Request to Track.
All in all, this is Apple’s big play to give people a choice whether they wanna be tracked. And chances are, more people are going to tap Ask App Not to Track. And guess who isn’t happy about that at all?
See, Facebook business is build around personalized advertising. Instead of charging you to use Facebook, Facebook charges companies to advertise.
These ads are targeted at you based on everything Facebook knows about you.
Here’s an add Facebook ran in The Wall Street Journal at the end of 2020,
Facebook CFO, Dave Wehner, was clear about how it will impact Facebook directly on a January 2021 earning calls:
”We continue to believe that that will be a headwind in the ads business. We’re gonna have to be providing a prompt asking people for permission to use third-party data to deliver personalized ads and we do expect there to be high opt-out rates related to that.”
The company added that the Apple prompt doesn’t give enough context about the benefits of personalized ads. Still, while Facebook has said recently that it won’t have a big impact to its own businesses, Facebook seems to be acknowledging that given the choice, users would prefer not to be tracked.
A Facebook spokesman said:
”While Apple claims this update is about privacy, it’s about forcing small businesses and developers to charge for apps that were once free, hurting consumers in the process. Free ad supported services have been essential to the growth and vitality of the internet, and we’re joining others to point out Apple’s hypocrisy and anti-competitive behavior.”
An Apple spokeperson responded:
”Apps and advertisers can continue to track users across apps and websites as before. App Tracking Transparency in iOS 14 simply requires that they ask for users permission before sharing their data with other companies. Supporting small businesses has been at the heart of the App Store since it was created to help developers of all sizes develop, test, and distribute apps around the world.”
The company also says it has introduced new free tools for advertisers to measure their campaigns while respecting user privacy. As a company based on hardware sales and more recently, more subscription services, Apple has long stood on the side of user privacy.
Here’s Steve Jobs in 2010
But of course, there is benefit to Apple’s business. Mr.Cook and his team see privacy and other security features, like encryption as a selling point of its hardware and software combo.
So two companies, two very different business models and two very different visions of how technology and the internet should work for us.
And the future fights are going to go way behind privacy.
On that same earnings call from January, Mark Zuckerberg said:
”I do wanna highlight that we increasingly see Apple as one of our biggest competitors.”
He pointed out products like iMessage competes with Facebook’s messaging business, which includes WhatsApp, Instagram and Facebook Messenger.
”Apple has every incentive to use their dominant platform position to interfere with how our apps and other apps work, which they regularly do to preference their own.”Mark Zuckerberg
But where is this really heading?
Literally, our heads.
The fight for the future of computers Augmented Reality Glasses.
When the teach is ready these glasses will probably run an operating system made by one of these companies.
And it could be a fight bigger than Android versus iOS or Windows verse Mac.
Facebook which own Oculus, is investing heavily in the software and hardware side of glasses, and is planning to release some smart glasses in the next year.
”I can’t go into full product details yet, but they’re gonna be the next step on the road to augmented reality glasses.”Mark Zuckerberg
Apple is working on its own headset, according to various reports, and Tim Cook has shared his interest in augmented reality for years now.
”And I think AR can help amplify the human connection. I have never been a fan of VR like that because I think it does the opposite.”Tim Cook
So you see, this change in iOS 14.5 is just the start of this fight.
You know what’s not gonna be happening anytime soon?
Apple and Facebook making up.
As for who ultimately wins, there’s no telling but at least with iOS 14.5 the winners are users who have wanted control of their privacy and data.