Facebook prompt will encourage ad tracking opt-in ahead of Apple’s privacy push

Technology

Facebook will begin showing a prompt on its mobile app for the iPhone and iPad that’s designed to convince users to allow ad tracking, in preparation for an upcoming privacy change in which Apple will force developers to obtain permission to track users across apps and websites in the future. The new screen, first reported on Monday by CNBC, will be shown to users globally starting today and will provide Facebook with early data on how Apple’s privacy change might affect the social network’s business, ahead of Apple’s planned update in early spring that will make the opt-in request mandatory.

The prompt will give users a page of information detailing why Facebook thinks a user should give the company permission to track them on iOS. The company argues doing so will make ads more personalized and help support businesses that rely on advertising. Apple’s upcoming change, which it first detailed at its developer conference last year, will let users opt out of letting apps collect the so-called Identifier for Advertisers, or IDFA, code, which companies share with one another to track a user across apps and websites and to measure the effectiveness of digital ads.

Facebook has spent the last few months citing the potential harm to small businesses posed by Apple’s new privacy measures, which Facebook says will lead to less effective advertising and potentially lower revenues. The company has even taken out full-page newspaper ads railing against Apple’s changes, and both Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Apple CEO Tim Cook have made a series of increasingly hostile public remarks against the other company’s business models. Now, Facebook says under App Store rules allowing developers to educate consumers, it’s using its new prompt “to help people make a more informed decision.”

“Apple’s new prompt is designed to present a false tradeoff between personalized ads and privacy; when in fact, we can provide both. Apple is doing this to self-preference their own services and targeted advertising products,” a Facebook spokesperson tells The Verge. “To help people make a real choice, we’re also showing a screen of our own to provide more information about how we use personalized ads, which support small businesses and keep apps free. Agreeing to our screen doesn’t result in Facebook collecting new types of data; it just means that Facebook can continue to give people better experiences.”

The prompt is intended to preface the system-level pop-up Apple will make mandatory in an upcoming iOS 14 release this spring. Notably, Facebook does not use the word tracking, but instead asks to “use your apps and website activity,” while the Apple pop-up that follows spells out that Facebook is asking for permission to “track you across apps and websites owned by other companies.” Developers have been able to ask for permission since the release of the new operating system last fall. Yet few have done so, while Apple delayed its implementation of the opt-in requirement in September of last year to give developers more time to comply.

In this case, however, Facebook is asking for permission early in an effort to prepare itself for what may be a substantial amount of its users who decline to opt into ad tracking. According to a report from The Information last week, some internal estimates at the company predict fewer than 20 percent of Facebook users agreeing to allow tracking on iOS. Regardless of the choice a user makes if they see the pop-up today or sometime in the next few weeks, Facebook intends to honor the choice when Apple makes the opt-in requirement mandatory, according to CNBC.