Apple and Facebook battle for consumer tracking transparency

Jessie Catellano, Staff Writer

Apple’s new privacy feature implemented in iOS 14.5, their latest update for iPhones, has increased tensions across the tech world. The most publicized new feature is called App Tracking Transparency, which gives users a choice of whether apps can track their individual device. Social media giant Facebook argues that this new update harms the growth of small businesses by limiting their ability to run personalized ads. In contrast, Apple has long argued the necessity of protecting the privacy of the consumer. But if Facebook creates social networks and Apple manufactures devices, why is there a dispute about consumers’ privacy? Fundamentally, this fight goes way beyond privacy and will affect the growth of Facebook as an advertising platform. Nevertheless, Apple’s model is fair in the idea that consumers deserve the choice of whether companies should share and sell their personal data.

For years, each Apple product has had an IDFA number – essentially a personalized “advertiser tracking number.” The IDFA number assists apps in identifying individuals and helps companies, like Facebook, track what they do on their device. The new update, however, requires by default that apps ask users if they want to be tracked. So, that app will not share a user’s IDFA number if the user specifies as much. Facebook’s main concern is that most people will likely decide not to be tracked, which in turn impacts the way businesses can personally advertise to its consumers.

Facebook has stated, “Many in the small business community have shared concerns about Apple’s software update which will limit business’s ability to run personalized ads and reach their customers effectively.” Facebook does not charge its users to download the app. Still, they do charge companies to advertise on the platform, so if companies cannot advertise as effectively, Facebook loses money. Apple responded that apps and advertisers can still track users across apps, just as they have before, but will now just be required to have their permission. 

Most consumers prefer more to less privacy in their online experiences, a principle which Apple has stood for since its founding in 1976. This update may lessen personalized ads directed toward the consumers, but tracking transparency is critical in a digital age. There is no winner in this battle between two major technological companies, but the obvious winner is the consumer, who now gets a real say in what of their information they want to be shared.

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