March 8, 2021

Facebook strikes back against Apple iOS 14 IDFA privacy change


The founder and CEO of Facebook Mark Zuckerberg speaks during the 56th Munich Security Conference in Munich, southern Germany, on February 15, 2020.

Christof Stache | AFP | Getty Images

Facebook on Monday will begin urging some iPhone and iPad users to let the company track their activity so the social media giant can show them more personalized ads.

The move comes alongside Apple‘s planned privacy update to iOS 14, which will inform users about this kind of tracking and ask them if they want to allow it.

The two companies have been at odds for a decade, and have recently engaged in a heated war of words around these privacy changes. Last week, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg called Apple one of its biggest competitors and said the privacy changes will hurt the growth of “millions of businesses around the world.” The next day, Apple CEO Tim Cook alluded to Facebook in a speech at a data privacy conference in Brussels, saying, “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 scorn.”

The battle focuses on a unique device identifier on every iPhone and iPad called the IDFA. Companies that sell mobile advertisements, including Facebook, use this ID to help target ads and estimate their effectiveness. 

With a forthcoming update to iOS 14, each app that wants to use these identifiers will ask users to opt in to tracking when the app is first launched. If users opt out, it will make these ads a lot less effective. Facebook has warned investors that these looming changes could hurt its advertising business as soon as this quarter.

Facebook is testing the effects of this update now, before Apple makes it mandatory for all apps early this spring.

As part of this test, Facebook will begin showing some users its own prompts starting on Monday, explaining why it wants to track this activity and asking users to opt in. These prompts will appear on Apple users’ screens immediately before the Apple pop-up appears.

One test version of the Facebook prompt has a bold-faced header asking “Allow Facebook to use your app and website activity?” and claims that Facebook uses that information to “provide a better ads experience.” It will then offer users a choice between “Don’t Allow” and “Allow.” (The precise language and appearance of the Facebook prompt may vary.)

No matter which selection users make on the Facebook prompt, if they choose not to allow tracking on the Apple pop-up, that choice will be final and Facebook will honor it.

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