Facebook Is Gaslighting Users Into Allowing Ad Tracking on iOS 14

Anupam Chugh

As Apple’s opt-in ad tracking popup rolls out, Facebook’s got another trick up its sleeve

Source: Google

The fact that Facebook and Apple have been at loggerheads for a decade is no mystery. A lot of this has to do with their business philosophies which are not in harmony with one another.

Apple, the pioneer of innovation believes privacy is the fundamental right of every human. Understandably, their products are pricey but largely guarantee your data security.

Facebook on the other hand believes in free services. But we all know, “when you’re not paying, you’re the product”. The social network king has primarily relied on harvesting user data and retargeting through advertising campaigns in order to drive their source of revenue.

Lately, Apple has been doubling down on data privacy by giving user’s a lot more transparency and better control over who uses their data.

After a slew of enhancements in the form of limited ad-tracking(which was deeply buried under the settings), privacy-focused Bluetooth and location permissions with iOS 13, the Cupertino tech giant took things a notch further in iOS 14 by introducing approximate location access, App Store privacy reports, and blocking third-party cookies in Safari.

But from the perspective of advertisement agencies, the newly announced App Tracking Transparency framework became a major talking point and led to more woes for Facebook.

Why Is Facebook Worried About iOS 14's Anti-Ad Tracking Feature?

If the ability to not track precise location wasn’t a bane for location-based advertisers, an opt-in ad-tracking dialog certainly became the cause of concern for digital advertisers.

For those who don’t know, every app on the App Store that monetizes ads typically uses Facebook or Google’s Ad SDK. Either of the SDKs leverages Apple’s Advertising Identifier(IDFA), a unique device string to identify a user. In doing so, advertising agencies can track individuals across apps, new installations via deep links, and subsequently earn revenue by retargeted ad campaigns.

With the advent of iOS 14, Apple announced a new privacy-focused ad framework, SKAdNetwork. Unlike previously, apps would now be required to show the App Tracking Transparency(ATT) system prompt thereby giving users the final choice whether to “Allow” or “Ask App Not to Track”. This one dialog sent tremors in the whole mobile advertisement industry as IDFA was rendered useless. If a user selects “Ask App Not to Track”, the SKAdNetwork would only send generic user information to the advertiser.

It won’t be an overstatement to say that most users would deny the permission considering it’s a privacy nightmare. Unsurprisingly, this led to an outcry by Facebook and Apple decided to postpone the feature until 2021 in order to give digital marketers and developers more time.

Now that the iOS 14 ATT prompt has begun rolling out, Facebook is trying to alter the narrative of the entire campaign once again. They’ve rolled out full-page newspaper ads depicting Apple as the Darth Vader of small businesses and criticizing them for killing the free internet.

Ironically, Facebook is a company that never stood by small businesses and is known for its “copy, buy or kill” strategy. To add more fuel to the fire, Facebook is also the firm that only recently tried to force WhatsApp users to either “send their data or lose the account” in the name of the privacy policy(though this backfired and they had to retreat).

Their whole anti-Apple marketing campaign was laughable, reeked desperation, and only showed how worried they are about the iOS 14 privacy features.

Facebook’s Latest Coup Is To Mislead Users That Personalised Advertisements Are Good

With everything else falling apart, Facebook has now stooped to a newer low. Only this week(time of writing), Facebook has quietly released test banners messages across their family of apps. The prompts are a pre-emptive measure to entice users into accepting the ad-tracking permission that’ll show up subsequently.

Specifically, the message banner state:

  • Get ads that are more personalized
  • Support businesses that rely on ads to reach customers.

It’s pretty obvious that Facebook is trying to convince users to allow tracking by projecting personalized advertisements as relevant for user experience — which is misleading.

Any non-tech savvy user might buy into Facebook’s claims since they’d see targeted advertisements as a luxury. After all, viewing content and stuff that you’re probably interested in and would like to be recommended sounds like a fair deal. Right?


Firstly, the recommended content that you see on the news feed is totally different from personalized advertisements. The former is achievable through collaborative filtering and other fancy algorithms without requiring an ounce of your personal data. At least content recommendations don’t require user behavior patterns or demography.

Secondly, there’s a difference between relevant and personalized ads. Users can be targeted by relevant ads by leveraging minimal data(age, gender, etc) without the need of storing that information. But companies that use personalized ads typically collect a huge amount of data — more than what’s usually needed. If watching the Netflix Original “Social Dilemma” wasn’t scary, then it’s important to know that advertising agencies typically build user profiles in a similar fashion as it was shown in the film.

iOS 14 Won’t Impact Facebook Ads. Instead, It’ll Dissolve Their Audience Network

Anyone who thinks that the new opt-in ad tracking dialog is going to impact Facebook’s own advertising revenue is in for a surprise.

Long before privacy was a big thing, Facebook had already moved away from third-party tracking cookies. Instead, they have their own first-party tracking tools such as Facebook Pixels to identify users.

So, Facebook isn’t really fighting for its own ads. Instead, they’re trying to save the Audience Network, a billion-dollar empire they’d built for advertisement agencies.

For the uninitiated, Audience Network is an advertising platform created by Facebook to boost the ad conversion rates of various mobile app publishers. To put it simply, Audience Network is a stock market for advertisers with Facebook as the broker.

Personalized ads helped mobile advertisement agencies retarget specific users and make more money.

Apple has just debilitated that thereby bringing Facebook’s whole Audience Network on its knees. So going forward, Facebook Ads still know who you are. It’s only the third-party ad publishers who’re at the biggest loss since they can’t track you without consent.

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Texas State

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