Facebook and Apple showdown – who will win? Faced with the tsunami of highly targeted advertisements from Facebook or Apple’s strengthened privacy controls, which would you choose?
And that is what the spat is about. Apple wants to stop apps from tracking your activity across other apps and websites without your knowledge or permission. One of the most prolific companies that does this is Facebook, which makes squillions from monetising your data whether you like it or not.
Facebook versus Apple
First, let’s be clear that Facebook will not be the only casualty from Apple’s privacy move. Almost every free and paid app harvests your data in some manner. Many monetise it by selling to Facebook and other data brokers who mix it into your web-profile.
As the hardware and software designer, Apple simply wants to switch-off (default) data harvesting in iOS. This is also called ‘app tracking transparency’ and refers to when one app can ‘track’ what you do on other apps and websites from completely different companies.
And it is not just Apple. The whole world is starting to take privacy seriously. If the product is free, the product is you.
Although 90% of Google’s revenue is from advertisements, it too wants to tighten privacy from third-party cookies and more nefarious web privacy stealers. It started in Android 10 with every app requiring permission (never, only while using the app, always) and will be tightened in Android 11 onwards to stop the exfiltration of that data. And Chrome Browser is about to block third party cookies by default. But Google does not have the hardware/software walled-garden that enables Apple to do this with relative speed and ease.
While Facebook tries to ‘advertise’ that users should trust it, a recent Roy Morgan Risk report found it to be the least trusted brand on the planet. Facebook rationalises that giving it your data allows it to deliver highly targeted ads to you and support small business.
Apple, however, has a big stick. App developers, including Facebook, will be required to let us choose to disable app tracking. And if we say no, the app must still provide the same functionality or it won’t be allowed in the App Store. So Facebook has to either comply or disappear from the App Store. Facebook says that app developers may need to charge subscriptions or introduce in-app purchases in the future to replace the lost money they made from selling our data.
For an interesting view on how our data is collected while living our everyday lives, have a read of Apple’s A day in the life of your data (This is a PDF so check your downloads.)
Where is this heading?
To court probably! It is the only way a Facebook and Apple showdown can end. Let’s hope it does and justice sets a new benchmarks for app privacy and personal data protection.
Facebook knows all. Shoe size, likes, dislikes, friends, personal secrets etc. On the one hand, it means we will be served ads that are highly relevant to our interest, likes and needs. On the other, many of us don’t really understand how this data is being gathered, what data ‘profiles’ they have on us, and if we can ever take it back.
There are other more privacy-friendly ways to advertise to us. Ads could be served based on what we are reading – such as showing us car ads if we are browsing an automotive site. It could be context-based (think Minority Report), location-based, or good old search-based where when you search for a nearby breakfast café it does not show the nearest Maccas.
What to do to tighten privacy now
Apple’s iOS 14.5 and later will have the privacy option. It should be available for downloading to iOS devices in the next month or so. Please use it!
Android users from 10 onwards can always allow, disallow or track during the apps use only. That is not quite enough. By blocking tracking, the app may not work properly. And when you use the app, it can track you! But Google’s work on stopping third-party cookies is also very brave and will help you.
Here are GadgetGuy’s tips for tighter privacy
Read the privacy and terms and conditions of use. Know how an app will use your data before you download it.
Select ‘Ask app not to track’ when asked about Ad Tracking when first installing an app
Go back into your apps and look at the permissions granted to each. Turn them off and see if the app still works.
Use an adblocker or enable adblocking in your browser
Browse in ‘Incognito’ or ‘private’ mode
Don’t sign in with Google, Facebook, Apple or Amazon accounts. Always use an email; and password
Disable location tracking on your phone to stop apps and websites from tracking your location in the background
Use a VPN (Virtual Private Network) to hide your true identity from website and app trackers
Don’t overshare on social media
Start a conversation with policymakers about privacy
Or just let Facebook get away with selling your data at no benefit to you!