A lot of attention has been put on Big Tech lately. In some cases, it seems the entire industry agrees, whether correctly or incorrectly. But, in other instances, the industry is entirely split. One of the best examples has been privacy. Some companies have taken a neutral stance, some have taken a public stance in favor of user privacy, and some have built their business around violating that privacy. In this week's battle over privacy, Apple has taken the pro-user stance while Facebook and Google have taken a stance against it.
With the announcement of iOS and iPad OS 14, Apple announced that it would roll out a collection of new privacy policies for any apps in the App Store. The first new feature features a detailed list of data collection policies within each app. You can see if the app uses the IDFA (ID for Advertisers), UUID, phone number, etc. Some of these have long had dialogs for permission on first use, but the IDFA has not. That was the second new feature - a user prompt to allow or block app access to the IDFA, called App Tracking Transparency. Apple describes it saying,
App Tracking Transparency will require apps to get the user's permission before tracking their data across apps or websites owned by other companies. Under settings, users will be able to see which apps have requested permission to track so they can make changes as they see fit.
While both of these announcements brought controversy from companies who rely on this data, those who use the IDFA to connect your activities on and off-platform were the loudest. The remodeled App Store listing has already been released, but Apple delayed the dialog. With the announcement that the dialog had officially launched in the developer beta of iOS 14, Facebook went on the offensive, trying to change Apple's mind. In particular, they have tried to sway the public against this feature designed to protect them.
Facebook has claimed that, by limiting the company's ability to track you across all sites and apps they own, plus all sites that implement the company's tracking pixel, you will be harmed. If you manage a business page on Facebook, and you have accessed it through the app on an Apple device, you have likely seen the notification at the to trying to convince you this is bad.
Facebook has correctly pointed out that this policy shift would inhibit its ability to collect information to create more accurate and targeted ads. They even took an opportunity through its earnings report to attack Apple's decision, claiming to be on the side of small businesses. While the information presented is correct, it's not the whole story. Users will have the ability to decide if they want their ads to be more accurately targeted to them, or if they would prefer Facebook, a company not known for treating user data with respect, can know what they're doing. In addition, a lot of people will not read or understand what the dialog says, and will just accept it to get back to using the Facebook app.
Facebook has obviously been ignored by Apple, but the company may not be able to entirely ignore them for long. According to a report, the company is considering a lawsuit. The suit would allege that Apple has used its position to actively inhibit the business development of competitors and those it disagrees with. If the report is correct, it would add to Apple's anti-competitive woes, as there are organizations and lawsuits in place from others.
This case differs from the others in that it affects Apple's users differently. The Epic suit alleges that what Apple is doing is harming the users themselves by limiting the choice for users, while Facebook's potential suit would allege that Apple's actions are harming the company by giving choice to users.
Google has also fought the idea, but has decided that a legal challenge is not going to be a success. Instead, they have accepted the loss of access to the IDFA and have chosen a different technology to allow them to get around the limitation. In a blog post, the company said,
When Apple's policy goes into effect, we will no longer use information (such as IDFA) that falls under ATT for the handful of our iOS apps that currently use it for advertising purposes. As such, we will not show the ATT prompt on those apps, in line with Apple's guidance. We are working hard to understand and comply with Apple's guidelines for all of our apps in the App Store.
Google will switch to another Apple tool, SKAdNetwork, which allows for similar but significantly more limited tracking of users. Google is going to push Apple to enhance this SDK, hoping they will get all of the capabilities of IDFA, though it is unlikely that Apple will follow.