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The Fight for Privacy Between Apple and Facebook

By Katherine Timmerman

As consumer privacy concerns grow, tech giants are stepping forward with data tracking transparency initiatives. Prior to 2020, most data protection requirements began with government legislation. Last year Apple made a statement by rolling out their newest operating system iOS 14 and providing consumers with more control over their individual data. However, the ripple effects of Apple’s update are multiplying.

In 2018, we witnessed the European Union regulate data collection with GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) and websites started to give users a choice. California set the pace for U.S. initiatives the same year by signing CCPA (California Consumer Privacy Act) and causing brands to alter their website’s opt-in prompts. Apple has now granted consumers the choice of data sharing on a much deeper level – the mobile operating system.

What will this look like for iPhone users? Individual apps will now ask users for permission to collect and share data. Apple’s newest privacy feature, App Tracking Transparency (ATT), requires tracking across apps and websites to be opt-in only. At their latest Worldwide Developers Conference, Apple stated “privacy is a fundamental human right”. This mobile update expands consumer control as digital marketing companies scramble to comply. One of the first major updates with iOS 14 requires app developers to disclose their privacy practices within the App Store. Second, apps cannot collect precise location data without the user opting-in to approximate location or precise location sharing. Apple acts as the gatekeeper between the iPhone user and third-party data companies who previously could collect their IDFA (Identifier for Advertisers) without a prompt.

Among the tech giants, Facebook is pushing back. Last year 97.9% of Facebook’s global revenue came from advertising. Apple’s new policy can limit advertiser data sharing and ad personalization which Facebook considers detrimental to small business owners. Personalization refers to local deals, neighborhood services, interest-based products, and more.

In a public statement Dan Levy, Facebook VP Ads and Business Products, shares “we disagree with Apple’s approach and solution, yet we have no choice but to show Apple’s prompt”. He continues, “we believe Apple is behaving anti-competitively by using their control of the App Store to benefit their bottom line at the expense of app developers and small businesses”. Facebook channeled their animosity into an awareness campaign #SpeakUpForSmall which encourages business owners to take a stance against the new policy.

As the controversial OS update gains momentum, the most important shift will come down to the user experience provided by the advertiser or brand. Ad tracking and personalization control are now literally in the hands of the target market. Some consumers will need to be encouraged to share their data. Here are a couple of things to consider:

  • Communicate the value of location services with your app or site. For example, in-store mode or closest store for at-home delivery. Be concise in the wording of your location prompt.
  • Update your privacy policy with input from developers. Include how and why data is being used transparently for consumer benefit.

Location services is one of the most common opt-in prompts. Think about the last app you used which requested location tracking. Grocery store curbside pick-up? Local weather? Snapchat filters? We’ve seen a huge shift in consumer behavior due to COVID safety precautions. Now more than ever, brands and platforms are becoming nimble with the end-user in mind.

Data transparency concerns are here to stay. Now let’s see how the tech leaders continue to respond.