Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has claimed that a pending version of Apple’s ad-tracking policy will hurt small businesses when it is introduced next year. Further, he says Apple could damage the economic recovery from the coronavirus crisis.

Zuckerberg’s attack relates to a privacy change Apple originally made in iOS 14 and subsequently agreed to delay to give the ad industry time to react …

Background

We explained previously how ad-tracking works, and why advertisers, websites, and developers like it.

Advertisers like to measure the effectiveness of their ads by working out how many people who purchase a product have seen an online ad for it. To do this, a cookie is dropped on the user’s device when they see an ad, and the website where the purchase is made can check for the presence of that cookie.

Conversely, if you visit a website about (eg) drones, the site can drop a cookie, and ad networks like those run by Google and Facebook can check for that cookie and then serve you ads for drones. This is why you often see ads relating to topics you’ve recently been researching.

This type of tailored advertising is more likely to be effective, so ad networks can charge more for displaying personalized ads on websites and within apps. This means websites and app developers earn more money from ads.

Advertisers don’t know who you are – they don’t know the identity of the person who saw the ad or visited the website – they just know that the same person (actually, device) did both.

Apple initially let users go into Settings > Privacy > Tracking and set a toggle allowing or denying permission for tracking. That kept everyone happy, as users who object to tracking could opt out, while most wouldn’t bother.

With iOS 14 betas, however, Apple switched to proactively seeking permission when an app wanted to use ad-tracking. That upset the ad industry as the language made it sound scarier than it is, so most people were likely to deny permission. Apple agreed to delay implementation of that until sometime next year.

Apple’s ad-tracking policy under attack by Zuckerberg

Zuckerberg earlier warned investors that the new policy was likely to hit its ad revenues hard. Noting that most people responded to this by searching for the world’s smallest violin, it seems he has now decided to up the rhetoric.

Business Insider reports.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg took aim at Apple on Thursday over its plans to limit advertisers’ ability to track iPhone users, suggesting the proposed changes could hurt small businesses and, by extention, the broader economy.

During Facebook’s quarterly earnings call, Zuckerberg told investors that “actions planned by platform companies like Apple could have a meaningful negative effect on small businesses and economic recovery in 2021 and beyond” […]

Zuckerberg argued that “personalized advertising is helping small businesses find customers, grow their businesses and create jobs,” and that measures to limit targeted ads, such as those by Apple and lawmakers in the European Union, would hurt those businesses’ ability to reach customers.

Even after the policy takes effect, the battle between Apple and ad networks will continue in new ways. The ad industry is already switching to a new method of tracking, known as device fingerprinting: using the large variety of data reported by your device to try to uniquely identify a device. Apple is hitting back against that by limiting the amount of data Safari reveals when you visit a website. That game of whack-a-mole is likely to continue for many years to come.

Photo: Alex Haney on Unsplash

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