A Sneak Peek at the Apple Feature That Keeps Facebook Up at Night

Illustration for article titled A Sneak Peek at the Apple Feature That Keeps Facebook Up at Night
Photo: Justin Sullivan (Getty Images)

Of all the privacy-preserving goodies Apple promised to roll into the iOS 14 update, its so called “Tracking Transparency” alerts were probably the most controversial, stirring up enough pushback from fellow tech giant Facebook that the feature ended up being delayed past its original autumn deadline.

Now it’s looking like Apple’s waited long enough. A user with beta access to the upcoming iOS 14.4 update shared a screenshot on a MacRumors’ forum showing the NBA official app asking to track their activity across non-NBA apps and websites. In the customizable fine print that accompanies these tracking prompts, the NBA’s app notes that it’ll use this data to offer “a better and personalized ad experience”—whatever that means.

Per MacRumors, it also looks like some folks using older versions of iOS 14 have also started getting these alerts on particular apps, albeit “rather inconsistently.”

Advertisement

To briefly recap, the idea of Apple’s so-called “AppTrackingTransparency framework”—or just ATT for short—is to give users control over the amount of data that the apps on their phones are allowed to hoover up. Arguably, the juiciest piece of data that users are getting control over with the update would be their phone’s advertising identifier, or IDFA. We’ve covered the IDFA in depth before, but in a nutshell, it’s a string of characters that identifies your specific phone across all of the apps that you use. Being able to access this particular ID doesn’t only allow advertisers to track you from app to app, but in tons of other ways as well.

Naturally, most advertisers were a bit peeved at the idea that Apple would be siphoning off their data supply. And the face of this peeved party, ironically enough, was Facebook. We’ve mentioned before that outside of Instagram, WhatsApp, and its flagship blue app, Facebook also has an external “advertising network” that siphons off tidbits of consumer’s phone data through non-Facebook apps in order to let those app’s users get retargeted across Facebook’s myriad platforms. Losing access to the IDFA, in particular, means that this Ad Network is losing a ton of valuable consumer data, which means Facebook, in turn, is losing ad dollars that were historically used to target that data.

That said, I think we can all agree that as far as companies go, Facebook isn’t really the most sympathetic player. This is probably why its tactic over the past few months has been hamfistedly telling us that the ATT update has the potential to cripple the small businesses that rely on its ad platform for their day-to-day work. Since August, we’ve seen this message rolled out on press calls, corporate blog posts, and—as of last week—two full-page newspaper ads.

Advertisement

Facebook, for its part, is kind of fuzzy on how small businesses will be impacted (besides some vague definition of badly). Now that there’s actual details coming out about what ATT entails, it’s looking like even Facebook’s own advertisers aren’t too worried about the actual impact that’s coming down the pike.

Per MacRumors, the 14.4 update should be publicly released in January or February of 2021. It looks like Facebook—and the rest of us—will be seeing those impacts soon enough.

Advertisement

I cover the business of data for Gizmodo. Send your worst tips to swodinsky@gizmodo.com.

Share This Story

Get our newsletter

DISCUSSION

awkwardbacon
awkwardbacon

Will this stop Facebook from listening to my goddamn phone calls to advertise to me?