Facebook has taken out its second round of full-page ads in two days seeking to have Apple... not roll out a privacy update or something.
At issue is an iOS update that will require users to provide explicit, opt-in consent to allow apps to track them with Apple’s Identifier for Advertisers (IDFA), a unique “anonymous identifier” on each iOS device that allows for companies like Facebook, as well as advertisers, to track users’ activities on apps. Currently, IDFA tracking is opt-out, meaning companies get that data by default. Facebook’s concern is that—naturally, and for good reason—that when given the choice, users won’t want to let advertisers snoop through half the crap they do on their phones, as they don’t actually care about seeing personalized ads and the whole behavior-tracking thing actually creeps them out.
This could seriously curtail Facebook’s ability to do things like monitor post-install actions, target ads, and model user behavior on iOS apps. Apple has also previously moved to implement new anti-tracking features on Safari, the stock browser on iOS devices, that limits the ability of advertisers to follow users around the web.
Facebook’s offered two lines of defense—that Apple is abusing its position as the sole arbiter of what goes on iOS devices, and that the move will be devastating for the poor mom-and-pop businesses that rely on it. Apple may well be a swaggering, anticompetitive bully, but seeing as Facebook is too, it’s not clear why anyone would take the company seriously as an advocate for either antitrust or small businesses. Regardless, Facebook has gone full aggro by attacking Apple over the forthcoming requirements via expensive, full-page ads in the nation’s largest newspapers. Here’s the ad that appeared in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and the Washington Post on Wednesday:
And here’s Thursday’s edition of the ad, which is nearly identical:
The full-page ads are clearly intended to spark some kind of backlash against Apple from small businesses, which may be a bit of a stretch.
Facebook wrote in the ads that the “forced software update” (as if Apple is forcing users to install iOS 14 at gunpoint) will make it so that “your favorite cooking sites or sports blogs” will have serious constraints on “their ability to run personalized ads” (this is the point.) Facebook argued that this will mean many free sites or apps will instead need to start charging users money for subscriptions or in-app purchases.
Facebook also asserted that 44% of small businesses have increased their use of personalized advertising during the novel coronavirus pandemic, citing a study by advisory firm Deloitte. It also emphasized, in bold, a statistic that without personalized advertising, an “average small business advertiser stands to see a cut of over 60% in their sales for every dollar they spend.”
In a blog post, Facebook explained that the 60% number is really more of a “longer term” thing:
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. We don’t anticipate the proposed iOS 14 changes to cause a full loss of personalization but rather a move in that direction over the longer term.
Facebook cited that statistic as arising from its own internal research in scant detail. Facebook offered just two sentences of explanation, saying that it compared data from advertisers that used the kind of data it says Apple wants to cut off vs. those that didn’t:
To understand the impact on small to medium businesses, we compared the aggregated results of advertising campaigns across Facebook’s Family of Apps that used the advertisers’ own data to optimize for purchases on the advertisers’ websites compared to the results of only using the ad platform’s data. The research analysis includes over 25,000 global advertising campaigns where advertisers were optimizing for purchases run in 2019.
When asked for more information about the statistic, a Facebook spokesperson redirected Gizmodo to the blog post. Facebook didn’t immediately respond to a follow-up question on which apps the tests involved or why they chose the specific subset of ads.
Apple has fired back at Facebook by essentially accusing the company of being a piece of shit.
Earlier this year, it delayed the rollout of the anti-tracking feature to 2021 to give developers more time to adjust. When it was criticized by privacy groups, it sent the orgs a letter hinting Facebook was one of the developers that needed more time to transition and accusing its executives of seeking to “collect as much data as possible across both first and third party products to develop and monetize detailed profiles of their users, and this disregard for user privacy continues to expand to include more of their products.”
Update: 4:30 p.m. at 12/18/2020: In a statement, a Facebook spokesperson described the origin of the 60 percent statistic as well as another that appeared in the blog post (that “publishers experience more than a 50% drop in revenue when personalization was removed from mobile app ad install campaigns”).
“Two different audiences and two different studies,” the spokesperson wrote. “The goal of the first study was to understand the impact of these changes on content creators’ revenues. The 50% number referred to a study that only looked at mobile app install ads for a small portion of publishers on Audience Network. The goal of the second study was to understand the impact on small e-commerce businesses. The 60% number came from a more comprehensive study across surfaces and properties that looked at ads optimizing for purchases.”