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Apple to launch privacy feature targeting data tracking, ramping up feud with Facebook

Daniel Howley
·Technology Editor
·3 min read
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Apple (AAPL) has fired another shot at Facebook (FB) in their ongoing privacy feud. On Thursday, Apple said its controversial user privacy feature will soon come to every iPhone on the planet capable of running the company’s latest version of iOS 14.

Called App Tracking Transparency, the feature, which will come as part of the next major update for iOS 14, gives users the ability to opt into allowing apps to track their activity. By default, the setting is turned off — potentially hurting companies like Facebook that make money from targeted ads.

“Awareness of industry practices like data tracking is only the first step toward a better privacy experience,” Apple said in a statement. “Users also need the features and controls to decide how their data is used, and by whom. Apple has led the industry by building privacy protections into every one of its products and services.”

Apple CEO Tim Cook arrives to the global premiere for Apple's "The Morning Show" at the Lincoln Center in the Manhattan borough of New York City, U.S., October 28, 2019.  REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz
Apple CEO Tim Cook arrives to the global premiere for Apple's "The Morning Show" at the Lincoln Center in the Manhattan borough of New York City, U.S., October 28, 2019. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz

One of Facebook’s ‘biggest competitors’

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg hinted at the coming changes to iOS 14 during Facebook’s quarterly earnings call on Wednesday, saying that Apple is now one of Facebook’s “biggest competitors.”

Zuckerberg later added, “Apple has every incentive to use its dominant platform position to interfere with how our apps work to favor their own, which they regularly do.”

App Tracking Transparency specifically deals with what is known as an identifier for advertisers, or IDFA. IDFAs are unique to each user’s device, allowing digital advertisers to better understand how effective their campaigns are. It also blocks the ability for apps to track you via email address, IP address, or social log-in.

Apple originally announced App Tracking Transparency back at its WWDC 2020 event, saying it would come as part of iOS 14, but held the feature back to give app developers more time to implement the needed changes.

Facebook Chairman and CEO Mark Zuckerberg at a House Financial Services Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., October 23, 2019. REUTERS/Erin Scott
Facebook Chairman and CEO Mark Zuckerberg at a House Financial Services Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., October 23, 2019. REUTERS/Erin Scott

Facebook, meanwhile, has been running a full-court press against Apple’s move. Citing its own research, Facebook says giving users the ability to opt out of tracking using App Tracking Transparency could lead to a 50% drop in revenue for small businesses that use Facebook’s advertising services.

In December, Facebook took out full-page ads in newspapers including The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal saying that App Tracking Transparency would crush small businesses that rely on IDFA for advertising.

Adding to the drama is the fact that Facebook is assisting Epic Games in an antitrust lawsuit against Apple claiming its app store is an illegal monopoly that benefits Apple at the expense of app developers. Facebook says it’s helping Epic because it believes Apple is only using App Tracking Transparency to force app developers to generate revenue by charging users for apps and in-app purchases rather than offering their apps for free and relying on in-app advertisements for revenue.

According to Facebook, having developers require users to pay for apps or make in-app purchases would benefit Apple, since it charges a 30% fee on the sale of all apps and in-app purchases made through its App Store.

Facebook’s move is especially dangerous for Apple, as the iPhone maker is facing an investigation by the Justice Department into its App Store practices and whether they constitute an illegal monopoly. Facebook, meanwhile, is being sued by the Federal Trade Commission, which wants to break up the social media giant.

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