Facebook Picks Public Fight With Apple Over Privacy

Facebook, long notorious for its questionable data practices, has picked a fight with Apple over its plans to promote privacy.

In the unusually public battle, the company that let Cambridge Analytica harvest 87 million users' data is running newspaper ads headlined “Apple vs. the free internet.”

Those ads claim Apple will “change the internet as we know it -- for the worse.”

How so? Apple -- much like many privacy advocates -- wants developers to ask users' permission before tracking them.

The company's Safari browser has blocked ad-tech tracking by default for more than 15 years. But Apple's mobile operating system currently allows developers to track users, unless they opt out.

Starting early next year, however, Apple's iOS14 operating system will require app developers to inform iPhone and iPad users about online tracking, and ask them to decide whether or not to allow themselves to be tracked.

If users decline, Apple won't allow developers to access device identifiers for advertising -- an alphanumeric string used to identify users across different mobile apps.

Apple will also prohibit developers from using workarounds, like device fingerprinting,- to track users who say they don't want to be tracked.

Facebook, much like the ad industry, apparently assumes very few people will say yes. The result, according to Facebook, is that small publishers -- presumably ones that monetize their apps through mobile ad networks -- will lose money.

“Take your favorite cooking sites or sports blogs,” the anti-Apple ad states. “To make ends meet, may will have to start charging you subscription fees or adding more in-app purchases, making the internet much more expensive and reducing high-quality free content.”

In a separate blog post this week, Facebook cited its own research for the proposition that small businesses could lose money without personalized ads -- though that study specifically mentioned ads powered by publishers' own data.

“Our studies show, without personalized ads powered by their own data, small businesses could see a cut of over 60% of website sales from ads,” the company wrote.

Despite Facebook's stated concerns, there is at least some evidence that curbing tracking will not necessarily harm ad revenue: Nederlandse Publieke Omroep, a publisher in the Netherlands, increased its digital ad revenue after it stopped relying on cookies, Wiredreported in August.

Apple has already delayed the rollout of its new setting, but says it has no plans to do so again.

“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,” the company stated this week. “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.”

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