September 9, 2020

Apple Delays iOS 14 Privacy Features After Facebook's Outcry

Facebook and iOS 14

Lately, there has been a lot of talk surrounding Facebook’s reaction to the new, privacy-oriented iOS 14 features I commented on earlier in this blog. There’s been even more talks after an imminent delay of this “crackdown” and a step back from Apple. 

It really looks like Facebook complaints had an effect, as now iOS is willing to give developers more time to rethink their business models.

We are committed to ensuring users can choose whether or not they allow an app to track them. To give developers time to make necessary changes, apps will be required to obtain permission to track users starting early next year,” reads the update.

In case you missed the story completely, particularly upsetting for Facebook is Apple’s intention to prevent apps from tracking by using a unique device identifier (IDFA) without user’s permission. As you can imagine, the reaction of the public was blunt and sarcastic, and journalists had a field day.

Post a snarky comment about Facebook’s stance on privacy ‒ get an easy upvote. Write an over-the-top headline about their reaction ‒ get a stack of comments and unthinkable user engagement.

Take a sip of water every time you see the word ‘lizard’ applied to Zuckerberg in any comment section, and you’ll have to get up from your seat and run to the “chamber of secrets” pretty fast.

This delay does not cancel anything, but paints an interesting picture nonetheless.

Points Missed During the “2 Minutes Hate” Procedure

People were quick to hop on the mindless Facebook hate bandwagon and express their uncensored disgust without understanding all the details. 

Many readers probably just stuck to the usual headline reading, choosing to comment on the situation with 2-3 word sentences of unoriginal content. It’s easy to hate on Zuckerberg, but some media outlets went overboard with their headlines, adding just too much spice to them.

Hate is easy because you don’t need to understand the implications of iOS 14 changes to express it. Hatred draws more attention, and Facebook always needs to be questioned, but let’s not just engage in name-calling and stick to a more mature reaction. I’m not going to defend Facebook’s dubious ethical practices, nor do I feel sorry for Facebook in the slightest, but I will point out some largely ignored points.

What’s Apple doing and what for, how exactly iOS 14 will hurt Facebook, and who will suffer the most after it’s all said and done?

How iOS 14 Will Affect Facebook Audience Network 

New iOS 14 changes would hinder, or should we say, curb down the enthusiasm of Facebook’s Audience Network with a feature to request the user's permission before sharing the "advertisers ID" across applications.

ID shared across applications is used for two reasons. 

Firstly, to show relevant ads instead of generic ones based on approximate time, location, and device type. Secondly, to calculate how much time the user spends in a specific app. For example, the ad in the app is changing every five minutes, and the user was shown ten ads, meaning the user spent approximately fifty minutes in a certain app.

Personalized ads are much more effective and make more money for Facebook, and that’s why Facebook pays app developers to show their ads. 

In other words, the changes will make targeted advertising offered to third-party applications less useful. New features will affect campaign performances and influence businesses that use Facebook to advertise much-much more than the company itself. 

So it’s not exactly a problem of data collection as many assumed. Facebook will still get tons of data and will continue to bathe in money.

Who Really Takes the Brunt, Users or Businesses?

It seems like people who will deny the ID permission will have a much worse user experience.

Apps that are not eligible for Google or Facebook ads usually choose to add obstructive ads (less relevant and more in-your-face ones), so we can expect to see more of them in the future. 

Application developers will just choose ads that will pay more, no matter how bad they may be. You either get a low-key ad without process disruption and less privacy, or a full-screen 5-seconds-then-skip-it one with a bit more privacy. 

It’s a trade off. Always has been.

Another change that this shift could bring are mandatory registrations, as apps are not allowed to use phone numbers to identify users, but can do so through email. 

So just because Facebook doesn’t like the changes pushed out on the new iOS, doesn’t mean that it will hurt them to an extent many would hope. It’s not as critical of a problem, albeit still an inconvenience, as only one portion of their advertising platform will be affected.

It certainly wouldn’t take down the social media behemoth. More than anything, it would make Facebook’s on-platform business look worse and it might be a bigger problem for some users. 

Ulterior Motives of Apple’s Stance on Privacy

Another thing many people have missed out on is the purpose of this development. Why exactly has this become a thing now? Only because Apple cares so much about user privacy? 

Unfortunately, no.

Apple’s refined marketing strategy may produce some wholesome commercials, citing how much they care about our privacy, but let’s not pretend like Apple restricts tracking because of their high moral fiber. 

While it is arguably higher than Facebook’s, Apple has another good reason to implement those changes ‒ Apple is removing tracking from all ad networks besides their own, Apple Search Ads (ASA).

This privacy switch is an attempt to force advertisers to prioritize ASA, a move made by Apple to own the advertising space on iOS, something that would make them a bigger player in the ad business, where they were not as dominant. It is a move to expand the revenue stream and to challenge the positions of the competitors.

Sorry to sour this sweet candy, but such actions are more calculated and cynical than they look at first sight.

The Finger-Pointing Championship Has Two Massive Challengers

The whole Facebook mocking reminded me of how Apple itself was laughed at after they told their users to think against covering device cameras, warning that it may damage your display. 

Of course, putting something hard-surfaced on the camera can damage the ”ambient light sensor.” Still, people would not let that wording go unnoticed, and also sarcastically commented on this recommendation. 

Funny enough, Zuckerberg puts the tape on the camera of his laptop.

It’s not the worst advice ever, but people didn’t read the article back then and assumed Apple just wanted to spy on us. That’s the power of the headline ‒ it is the only thing that is read today. 

The moral of the whole story is simple. It’s fun to dunk on Facebook from all the alley-oop passes from the media, but you might also want to take your time and read more about Audience Network, Apple Search Ads, and other details nobody seems to talk about with the same passion. 

It will be interesting to see what follows this delay, and if the usual suspects will find a way to run away with it like the thieves in the night.

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