Friday, June 18

Apple and Facebook’s Fight Isn’t Actually About Privacy or Tracking



It’s no secret that Facebook has feelings about the upcoming changes Apple plans to introduce to iOS 14.5. Apple has said it will require developers to request permission from users before they can collect data or track them while they use their apps. That comes after Apple previously required developers to disclose what information they collect with the introduction of privacy nutrition labels in the iOS App Store.

Those changes apply to all developers, but Facebook seems to be taking it personally. And, the company has been making those feelings known. 

Facebook took out full-page ads back in December, claiming that Apple was a threat to both small businesses and the open internet as we know it. Then, Facebook’s CEO, Mark Zuckerberg targeted Apple during his statements during the company’s most recent earnings call in February, claiming that the iPhone maker was engaging in anti-competitive practices.

It would be easy to mistake the fight for one over privacy or tracking, but I don’t think that’s the real issue. Apple isn’t going to stop developers from tracking you. It’s also not against personalized ads, as Facebook refers to the targeted advertising it shows you based on your internet activity. If you want to share everything you do online with Facebook, Apple won’t stop you. In that case, a developer can still collect the IDFA for the purpose of targeting ads or tracking conversions.

Apple is just going to require developers to be transparent about what data they want to collect and how they want to use it. Then, they have to ask your permission. 

That’s what the real fight is over–transparency. And, it’s why Facebook is so worried. 

Facebook’s problem is that, if given a choice, many people will choose not to allow tracking. A recent survey from AppsFlyer, an attribution data platform, shows that almost half of all users (47 percent) are likely to opt-out of tracking.

That’s the dirty little secret it would rather not talk about. Facebook doesn’t want you to think about tracking, and certainly doesn’t want you to have a choice.

Except, and I’ve said this before, if your business model will break because people are given a choice over whether or not you can track them, your problem isn’t with Apple. Your problem is the business model.

But Facebook’s transparency problem isn’t just with users. Not only does tracking make it possible to show target ads based on your activity, it also allows advertisers to identify which customers came to their site and made a purchase based on an ad. 

If you click on an ad for boots and then buy a pair, the seller can tell that you came to the site from the ad they paid for. That’s important because it allows advertisers to track conversions and justify the money they spent on ads.

If Facebook can’t track users, advertisers won’t be able to use the IDFA to match your purchase with the ad you clicked on. That makes Facebook’s advertising platform that much less valuable. If you’re an advertiser, you might choose to shift your dollars to another platform, say Google Ads. 

The only thing that would be worse than a lot of people opting out of tracking and Facebook’s advertising business suffering, would be a lot of people opting out, and nothing changed except that advertisers can no longer track conversions.  

I know that sounds counterintuitive, but if advertisers still get the same number of conversions, but can’t actually track them, it’s much more likely that they would switch to another platform where the cost per conversion is similar, but where they can better track how their efforts are working.

Facebook’s business model isn’t going to fall apart over privacy, or even tracking. Transparency, on the other hand, is the real reason Facebook is so worried.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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