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Facebook vs Apple: Nobody likes a voyeur

Facebook vs Apple: Nobody likes a voyeur
February 23
16:29 2021

Picture this. You are on your bed in your boxers. The mood is right. Barry White’s deep sensuous voice comes up on the HomePod. Telling you this. Telling you that. Or maybe Joe is your thing. Or Ed Sheeran. The room is chilled by the air conditioner. The lights are dimmed. Your bonnie lass is in the bathroom. You can smell her fragrance. She comes into the bedroom in a towel. She drops the towel as she walks towards you.

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Then your eye catches something in the corner of the room. A silhouette. A male figure seated in the armchair with a glass in his hands. You jump up from the bed in panic and switch on the lights. It’s the landlord.

You are shocked and furious. You shout at him to get the hell out of your room. Out of your apartment. He smiles and says no can’t do. He has the right to be there. You agreed to his presence when you rented the house. It was in the fine prints. But you didn’t bother to read it. Like the last tenant. And the one before him. And the one before that. All tenants really. But if you are adamant he should leave the room, he can. You’ll only have to move out of the apartment too and forfeit your rent. It’s in the contract. In the fine prints.

He pours himself another drink and waits on your decision. He smiles at you the way I imagine a lecher will smile.

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The story above is, of course, a sordid metaphor. An over-dramatization of Facebook’s tracking activities. But you did grant Facebook a front-row seat to your private life when you installed the app on your phone. You didn’t know you did. But you did.

So, here is how Facebook tracking works.

When you use the Facebook app on your iOS or Android device, Facebook tracks what you do on the app. It collects a host of information ranging from device, OS, city, gender, age and many more. But this tracking is not limited to only what you do on the Facebook app. Facebook also tracks you across other apps on your phone and websites you visit. It is not content to know what you do on its app; it also needs to know what you do on other apps and on the internet. Instagram, Twitter, Amazon, eBay, Candy Crush, TikTok, Tinder, Bumble or PornHub. Name it.

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Now, why does Facebook track you across apps and websites?

Why, to know you better, of course!

You see, Facebook makes money through targeted advertising or ‘personalised’ ads. Some $86 billion annual revenue. Facebook collects these troves of data about you so it can have a good picture of who you are. Your age, gender, city, interests, habits, lifestyle.

These gems of information are not all necessarily available on the Facebook app. By following you across the web, Facebook collects more data. To piece together and paint your demographic and psychographic portrait. This helps it to offer targeted advertising to advertisers and data brokers. Targeted ads are advertising ad techs think will be of interest to you based on your data.

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So, if you are playing with your side chick’s phone and you start seeing Facebook ads for baby food and diapers, congratulations homie! Facebook probably knows something you don’t.

The depth of information Facebook collects about you may be disconcerting. But all ad-based tech companies do the same. Google, Amazon, Instagram (Facebook Inc), Twitter, Yahoo. And they track you across multiple apps and websites too. That is the cost you pay for using the apps for free. Like many people, you didn’t read the Facebook privacy policy or terms. Nobody reads those. But that’s where the bodies are buried. Where you consented to be tracked.

So, what is the feud between Facebook and Apple all about?

Starting with iOS 4.5, Apple will introduce a feature called App Tracking Transparency or ATT. ATT requires users (you) to give permissions to apps before they can track you across apps and websites.

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With ATT, when you launch any app for the first time, you will see a pop-up that informs you that an app wants to track you across platforms. The pop-up will explain what the tracker is used for and asks whether you want to approve or reject the tracking and sharing of your data.

One of Apple’s brand promises is privacy. The iPhone is supposed to be iron-clad. So iron-clad that Apple itself cannot unlock an iPhone encrypted by the user. Ask the FBI. Thus, from a consumer and marketing perspective, offering iPhone users ATT is keeping with a brand promise. It helps deepen loyalty.

But Mark Zuckerberg is outraged about App Tracking Transparency. This new feature threatens the revenue of Facebook. Facebook probably suspects that if users have the choice of turning off tracking, many would. I know I would. I don’t want some bot stalking me all over the internet. It’s creepy.

When users opt not to be tracked, it means Facebook’s ability to paint a portrait of the user is limited. There’ll be gaps. And that is bad for targeted advertising. Bad for business.

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So Markie is pissed. So pissed he is calling Apple its biggest competitor. So pissed he is smearing Apple as an enemy of small businesses and the free internet in newspaper ads. He said Apple is using privacy as a justification to disadvantage Facebook.

Said he, “Apple has every incentive to use their dominant platform position to interfere with how our apps and other apps work, which they regularly do to preference their own.”

Tim Cook has never hidden his disdain for Facebook’s business model and flagrant abuse of users’ data.

“If a business is built on misleading users, on data exploitation, on choices that are no choices at all, it does not deserve our praise. It deserves reform,” he said.

However, Apple claims it is not asking Facebook not to track across apps and websites or change its business model. It only requires it and others to asks permission from users before it does.

Yea, right.

That’s like telling a thief to ask for your permission before he steals your car.

You may well ask why Facebook is worried about Apple’s ATT. After all, iOS is only 27% of mobile operating systems. Android rules the gamut.

But the bulk of facebook’s $86 billion annual revenue come from the US and Canada. Where iOS accounts for over 61% and 52% respectively of mobile operating systems. North America also happens to be the region with the highest Average Revenue per User (ARPU) for Facebook. See the Statista data below.

So, Facebook’s fight with Apple is a fight over ad revenue in the US and Canada. Europe is not an insignificant second.

Is Apple sincere about privacy claims or only manoeuvring for advantage? Time will tell. We’ll be watching its future actions closely. But Facebook’s history of data abuse and measurement untruths may deprive it of sympathetic ears. At least not from iOS users. They’ll be on Apple’s side. And many will remember the fiasco with Cambridge Analytica, US electioneering, and the upcoming data merger between Facebook and WhatsApp.

Social trust is proving to be a thing.

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