Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Facebook Protests App Tracking Transparency

Tom Warren (Hacker News):

Facebook is publicly criticizing Apple’s upcoming iOS privacy changes in full-page newspaper ads today.

Dan Levy:

Apple’s new iOS 14 policy will have a harmful impact on many small businesses that are struggling to stay afloat and on the free internet that we all rely on more than ever.


They’re creating a policy — enforced via iOS 14’s AppTrackingTransparency — that’s about profit, not privacy. It will force businesses to turn to subscriptions and other in-app payments for revenue, meaning Apple will profit and many free services will have to start charging or exit the market.


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.


They’re not playing by their own rules. Apple’s own personalized ad platform isn’t subject to the new iOS 14 policy.

Facebook is not wrong that this is bad for businesses buying and selling ads. And Apple is not playing fair. But, as an iOS user, I do like being offered the choice to control tracking. It seems like a reasonable compromise, compared with other cases where the App Store forbids certain business models entirely.

Joe Rossignol:

A refresher on the situation: Starting early next year, Apple will require apps to get opt-in permission from users to collect their random advertising identifier, which advertisers use to deliver personalized ads and track how effective their campaigns were. This will occur in the form of a prompt that shows up when users open apps on iOS 14.


“We believe Apple is behaving anti-competitively by using their control of the App Store to benefit their bottom line at the expense of app developers and small businesses,” said Facebook. “We continue to explore ways to address this concern.”

As one course of action, Facebook is now showing its support for Fortnite maker Epic Games’ antitrust lawsuit against Apple. Facebook said that it will be providing the court overseeing the case with information on how Apple’s policies have adversely impacted Facebook and the people and businesses who rely on its platform.

Apple (also: Mike Isaac):

An Apple spokesman disagreed, telling CNBC its own apps and services have to comply with its tracking rules and that its own ad network, called SKAdNetwork, is free for developers and Apple doesn’t make any money off it.

“We believe that this is a simple matter of standing up for our users. 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 emailed 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.”


Update (2020-12-24): Filipe Espósito:

As noted by some users today and now confirmed by 9to5Mac, Facebook is now promoting banners on some of its iOS apps, once again criticizing Apple for the changes in App Store privacy guidelines.

Rob Jonson:

If developers were allowed to make functionality conditional on tracking, then transparency would be 100% justified. ‘You can get facebook for free if you let us track you to serve ads’. Apple doesn’t allow that because they care about killing ad revenue, not customer choice.

John Gruber:

There’s nothing “forced” about the software update Facebook is talking about either, which, I think, is going to be iOS 14.4. It’s actually quite interesting that Apple does not force software updates, or perform them in a hard-to-disable-or-detect manner.

Apple does in that sometimes iOS updates reverses the preference that you set and turns future auto-updates on. If you don’t update, iOS constantly nags you. New devices require new OS versions. You can’t downgrade a device. In practice, updates end up being mandatory.

Jack Wellborn:

Usually companies in a big public disputes like this construct their arguments on competing assumptions. What’s interesting here is that Facebook’s prognostications of doom are based on the exact same assumption Apple used to justify these prompts to begin with — that no one will volunteer to be tracked if given the choice.

Lukas Mathis:

Personalized ads that use user tracking measure ads based on a direct causal relationship between users seeing an ad, and users acting on that ad by buying the product advertised in the ad. By that metric, the vast majority of ads just don’t work. People don’t see an ad for a product, and then buy that product immediately, or perhaps a few days later.

(In fact, every time scientists try to measure the effectiveness of advertising, it turns out to not be very effective at all.)

Instead, the way ads work is that when people decide to buy a product, they will have more trust in products whose ads they see consistently, and whose products they associate with publications they trust.


If Facebook wanted to increase the value of its ads, they would join Apple in fighting against user tracking, because in the end, it will increase the value of its ads. The less advertisers know about the direct causal effects their ads have, the higher they will value them.

See also: Josh Centers, EFF, Anupam Chugh, Hacker News.

Update (2021-01-01): Brad Hill:

I shouldn’t be surprised anymore but it is amazing that none of the press coverage I’ve read of Apple’s iOS 14 changes re: advertising have managed to mention at all the single most salient fact of the situation.

It’s not that Apple requires developers to ask users if they consent to sharing data with 3rd parties.

It’s that Apple forbids developers from doing anything differently when users decline.

No, “Share your data to enable meaningful ads, or pay $15 to use this app,” no “Enable personalized advertising to unlock premium features,” not even, “You’ll see more, less valuable, ads if you decline.” That would be user choice.

Update (2021-01-13): Chance Miller:

As first reported by iMore, Facebook has sent another round of emails to businesses informing them that while it disagrees with Apple’s planned changes, it has no choice but to follow them. Facebook says that the App Tracking Transparency feature, which requires apps to obtain consent from users before tracking them across other websites and apps, will have “hard-hitting implications across targeting, optimization, and measuring campaign effectiveness.”

3 Comments RSS · Twitter

Better tracking of who sees ads makes it easier to track how well these ads actually work, which makes it more obvious that most ads really don't work at all, which vastly devalues ads as a whole. The higher the separation between showing an ad, and somebody actually acting on that ad, the more valuable the ad becomes.

Facebook would be much, much better off fighting for extreme privacy across the whole industry, which would make it completely impossible to track ad performance, which would increase the value of its own ads, since people vastly overestimate the effectiveness of advertisements.

But I guess that goes against their motto: when in doubt, pick the most evil option.

Facebook protesting this? Let me assure you that SMB impact has nothing to do with it. The only thing important here is Facebooks own bottom line.

I have an iOS app that shows Admob ads. Ever since I added that prompt to my app, revenue has dropped more than 75%. Not sure how much the permission to use the advertising identifier has impacted revenue vs. other factors but seems like it may have had a lot to do with it.

Also think Google is robbing me of my ad clicks now....usage of the app is up...more ad requests, more impressions, but again revenue is down a lot from last year.

Leave a Comment