Facebook and Apple have been embroiled in a fight over access to people’s data for some time now and the stakes just got higher with the release of Apple’s latest iOS.

The iPhone operating system, iOS 14.5 came into effect on April 26 and it means that users of Apple products will now have to actively give permission for Facebook, and other companies which sell mobile advertising, to use their data.

Every iPhone and iPad has a unique device identifier (a string of letters and numbers that’s different on every Apple device) called the IDFA (identifier for advertisers) and it’s what has been used to collect data information to both target ads and estimate their effectiveness.

IOS 14.5 is introducing a lot of new features, but the one that’s being most closely watched is called ATT, or App Tracking Transparency.

Apple CEO Tim Cook has said the move is about giving users control over intrusive data collection, Facebook says that Apple is acting out of self-interest.

What is ATT?

After Apple users install iOS 14.5, a pop-up will be created when they open any app which wants to access their devices IDFA. It will ask if they wish to be tracked and give them the opportunity to opt in.

Apple’s new iOS pop-up permission information

Most surveys are suggesting the percentage of people who will refuse permission is as high as 80%, something Facebook also acknowledges according to the BBC.

What will be affected by the update?

According to Apple, some examples of tracking that app makers would be required to get permission from the user before doing include:

  • Displaying targeted advertisements in apps based on user data collected from apps and websites owned by other companies.
  • Sharing device location data or email lists with a data broker.
  • Sharing a list of emails, advertising IDs, or other IDs with a third-party advertising network that uses the information to re-target those users in other developers’ apps or to find similar users.

Why does Apple care?

Apple is big on being a “privacy” company and they have little interest in their customer data as they make the bulk of their money from selling devices, in-app purchases, and via charging developers to put their products in the Apple App Store.

Their newly introduced ad space now also allows app-makers to advertise on the App Store search tab, rather than just in the search results.

Back in 2010, Apple co-founder Steve Jobs acknowledged that some people didn’t care about how much data they shared, but he said they should always be informed of how it was being used.

“Privacy means people know what they’re signing up for, in plain English and repeatedly… ask them, ask them every time,” he said.

And at a dinner hosted by the Electronic Privacy Information Center in 2015, Apple chief Tim Cook gave a speech in which he said: “People should not have to “make trade-offs between privacy and security.”

Apple was one of the first to build in protection to its software. In 2017 it introduced a feature in its Safari browser called ITP that used machine learning to block ad trackers, and last year it introduced a block on all third-party tracking cookies.

Craig Federighi, the company’s senior vice president of software engineering said apps that don’t comply with the new requirements, which Apple calls App Tracking Transparency (ATT), can be removed from the App Store, which is the only way to install software on an iPhone.

Apple is also requiring all developers to submit new information about their data practices, including around advertising if they wish to place their app in the Apple Store.

With the iPhone accounting for more than 25% of smartphones around the world according to StatCounter, the loss of access to the App Store would be significant. Apple’s market share is higher in countries like the United States and iPhone users are often wealthier and seen as more valuable customers.

What is Facebook’s Objection?

Facebook has repeatedly, and publicly, voiced its opposition to the update, saying that it will lead to an increase in ad costs by reducing targeting capacity. 

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said: “The reality is that I’m confident that we’re gonna be able to manage through that situation well and we’ll be in a good position. I think it’s possible that we may even be in a stronger position if Apple’s changes encourage more businesses to conduct commerce on our platforms.”

However, he’s warned that small businesses and developers will be more impacted by the changes and will have a harder time navigating them.

Facebook also announced that – to help people make a more informed decision – it was also showing a screen of its own, along with Apple’s.

In the announcement, Facebook said: “It will provide more information about how we use personalized ads, which support small businesses and keep apps free. If you accept the prompts for Facebook and Instagram, the ads you see on those apps won’t change. 

“If you decline, you will still see ads, but they will be less relevant to you. Agreeing to these prompts doesn’t result in Facebook collecting new types of data. It just means that we can continue to give people better experiences. We feel that people deserve the additional context, and Apple has said that providing education is allowed.”

Facebook’s additional information screen

Facebook has appeared to accept the changes and promised “new advertiser experiences and measurement protocols”. It admitted that the ways digital advertisers collect and use information needed to evolve to one that will rely on less data.

However, it also claims privacy and a personalised advertising experience are “not at odds” so the chances are the debate will continue.

Apple has also faced opposition in China, where ByteDance and Tencent have vowed to implement workarounds in order to continue tracking user activity. 

What does it mean for you?

If you’re not an Apple device user the chances are you won’t even be aware of this public fight between the two companies.

However, if your business produces apps and looks at data tracking via both Apple and Android devices, you’re going to have to consider what you’re doing with that information, and why. This update from Apple links to the requirements.

There is also growing concern among governments, regulators, and privacy advocates, about how big and complex the ecosystem which surrounds the internet and connects together websites, apps and social media platforms.

According to the BBC, here are just some of the points to consider:

  • The average app includes six third-party trackers that are there solely to collect and share your online data, according to a report commissioned by Apple;
  • Some apps request access to more data than is required to provide their service. TikTok is being sued by England’s former children’s commissioner for collecting large amounts of children’s data;
  • The UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office is investigating real-time bidding – the daily automatic placement of billions of targeted online adverts on web pages and apps;
  • Any one data broker is estimated to have data on up to 700 million consumers, according to research consultants Cracked Labs.

What happens next?

Technology consultant Max Kalmykov wrote in an article on Medium that advertisers had to “prepare for the next, privacy-focused era of digital advertising.”

This may include contextual ads, such as fashion-related ads appearing only on websites about fashion rather than randomly following people across the web.

Ad placements on podcasts or with influencers would be another non-intrusive way of advertising, he suggested.

Our recent blog on the demise of third-party cookies looked at a number of different ways in which advertisers can gather accurate and transparent data from their customers and potential clients.

Beacon’s View

At Beacon we’ve been champions of transparent marketing data since our foundation. With click fraud detection and mitigation across search and social, Beacon feeds other parts of the Martech stack with better quality data, to enable improved analytics, decision-making and results.