Facebook makes the case for activity tracking to iOS 14 users in new pop-ups
February 1, 2021
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The two messages Facebook users will see in this test. On the left, Facebook's prompt, and on the right, the one required by Apple.
Enlarge / The two messages Facebook users will see in this test. On the left, Facebook’s prompt, and on the right, the one required by Apple.

Today, Facebook began testing prompts to iPhone and iPad users championing the importance of being tracked by the social network for the benefit of small businesses that use its advertising tools.

The test is in response to Apple’s plan to require user opt-in to IDFA (ID for advertisers) tracking across all iOS, iPadOS, and tvOS apps starting with new software updates expected in the spring.

According to CNBC, Facebook will pre-empt Apple’s required pop-up with its own on affected devices. Facebook’s message is meant to persuade users not to opt out of tracking.

Apple had already announced that, with the upcoming software releases, apps that use IDFAs to track users across apps and websites will have to show a pop-up that says, for example, “Facebook would like permission to track you across apps and websites owned by other companies.”

That prompt will also be presented with a short blurb from the app-maker to make the case right within this confirmation box (Facebook is going with “This allows Facebook to provide you with a better ads experience”). This is followed by two choices: “Ask App Not to Track” and “Allow Tracking.”

The Facebook app on iOS and iPadOS will serve up this required dialogue box, but Facebook is testing another message that will appear even before users see that one. In the copy obtained by CNBC, it reads:

Allow Facebook to use your app and website activity?

  • Get ads that are more personalized
  • Support businesses that rely on ads to reach customers

To provide a better ads experience, we need permission to use future activity that other apps and websites send us from this device. This won’t give us access to new types of information.

The example language we have here may not be final, and Facebook may be testing multiple versions of the message to determine which approaches are most effective at keeping users opted in to tracking.

Facebook previously bought a full-page newspaper ad with similar messaging, making the case that the change would be particularly negative for local businesses as they struggle during the pandemic. “Beyond hurting apps and websites, many in the small business community say this change will be devastating for them too, at a time when they face enormous challenges,” it read. “Small businesses deserve to be heard. We’re standing up to Apple for our small business customers and our communities.”

Last week, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg told investors on the company’s quarterly earnings call that they should soon expect reduced advertising revenues from the company as a result of Apple’s change in policy, because many if not most users will opt out when presented with the choice. He also claimed that Apple’s move to require opt-in from users for IDFA tracking is one of many examples of Apple engaging in anticompetitive and monopolistic practices.

That same week, a report was published in The Information that detailed Facebook’s plan to file an antitrust lawsuit against Apple over this issue, as well as alleged preferential status Apple gives to its iMessage platform (a competitor to Facebook Messenger and Facebook-owned WhatsApp) on iOS and iPadOS.

Also that same week, Apple CEO Tim Cook delivered a keynote address at a Brussels data-privacy conference in which he alleged that companies like Facebook are “built on misleading users, on data exploitation, on choices that are no choices at all,” and that business models like Facebook’s bear a cost of “polarization, of lost trust and, yes, of violence.”

Apple plans to begin requiring the opt-in notification in all apps that use IDFAs sometime this spring, and Facebook plans to honor iOS and iPadOS users’ choices once they’ve been made—at least, as long as Apple’s policy doesn’t get overturned in a brewing storm of antitrust complaints.

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