Facebook relies on user data it gathers in order to target them with scarily-alluring ads. Apple on the other hand, is a hardware company, and isn't needing user data to earn money. This time, the two big tech companies with two different business models, clash.
Facebook criticizes Apple over its planned tracking-related privacy measure, saying that the opt-in feature would hurt small businesses that benefit from personalized advertising.
Facebook has spent weeks criticizing Apple's privacy plan that is set to launch early in 2021 through an update on iOS 14 and iPadOS 14.
Facebook has argued that Apple's move "isn't about privacy, it's about profit," claiming that Apple's policy will leave many apps and websites with no choice but to start charging subscription fees or add more in-app purchase options to make ends meet, in turn increasing App Store revenue.
Facebook said the result will make the internet "much more expensive" and reduce "high-quality free content."
Facebook even bought a full-page ad on a New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Wall Street Journal to showcase what it meant.
"We disagree with Apple's approach and solution, yet we have no choice but to show Apple's prompt," Facebook said. "If we don't, they will block Facebook from the App Store, which would only further harm the people and businesses that rely on our services. We cannot take this risk on behalf of the millions of businesses who use our platform to grow."
In response to Facebook, Apple expressed that users deserve control and transparency.
"We believe that this is a simple matter of standing up for our users," said Apple, adding that "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 Electronic Frontier Foundation then weighted in.
As one of the leaders in defending digital privacy, free speech, and innovation, the EFF believes that Facebook's campaign against Apple is really about "what Facebook stands to lose if its users learn more about exactly what it and other data brokers are up to behind the scenes."
In a website post, the non-profit organization that defends civil liberties in the digital world also noted that Facebook has "built a massive empire around the concept of tracking everything you do," and this attempt from Facebook is "laughable."
"Requiring trackers to request your consent before stalking you across the Internet should be an obvious baseline, and we applaud Apple for this change. But Facebook, having built a massive empire around the concept of tracking everything you do by letting applications sell and share your data across a shady set of third-party companies, would like users and policymakers to believe otherwise."
According to the EFF, a number of studies have shown that most of the money made from targeted ads doesn't really reach app developers, and instead goes to third-party data brokers like Facebook, Google, and lesser-known firms.
With the initiative by Apple, the EFF applauded the iPhone maker for its pro-privacy change, calling it a great step forward.
"When a company does the right thing for its users, EFF will stand with it, just as we will come down hard on companies that do the wrong thing," the organization concluded. "Here, Apple is right and Facebook is wrong."
"Facebook has locked them into a situation in which they are forced to be sneaky and adverse to their own customers. The answer cannot be to defend that broken system at the cost of their own users' privacy and control."
The criticism rose when Apple said that it would start forcing developers of iPhone and iPad apps to request permission from users to track their activity across apps and websites owned by other companies for personalized advertising purposes. Specifically, users will be presented with a prompt to allow or deny tracking as necessary when opening apps on iOS 14 and iPadOS 14.
The feature was initially planned for iOS 14’s release this 2020, but Apple delayed the rollout until early 2021 to give developers more time to plan.
"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,” Apple said in a statement.
“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.”
We believe users should have the choice over the data that is being collected about them and how it’s used. Facebook can continue to track users across apps and websites as before, App Tracking Transparency in iOS 14 will just require that they ask for your permission first. pic.twitter.com/UnnAONZ61I
— Tim Cook (@tim_cook) December 17, 2020
While the change is simple, it will hurt Facebook's owned diversified ads business.
But the biggest problem here isn't only about Facebook complaining about Apple's approach or Apple in defending its stance, but also about the symbiotic relationship betweem the two companies.
Facebook users that use Apple products are more than plenty. And here, Facebook needs Apple to reach those users.
Similarly, Apple needs Facebook to gain lots of buyers of its iPhones and iPads, and it is risking losing buyers if its products don't fully-support Facebook-owned apps (Facebook core app, Instagram, Messenger, and WhatsApp).
The battle over the anti-tracking feature adds to a years-long dispute between the two top tech companies.
Further reading: Apple's IOS 14: A One-Day Headache For Developers