Today is the day that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has been dreading for more than a year, possibly even extending back to a private encounter he had with Apple CEO Tim Cook back in July 2019 at the annual Allen & Company investment bank conference that’s regularly attended by America’s corporate elite.
The arrival on Monday of Apple’s latest mobile operating software update, iOS 14.5, stands to dramatically reshape the business model that underpins pretty much the entirety of Facebook (its pervasive tracking that makes lucrative, hyper-personalized advertising possible). Thanks to The New York Times, we got a fascinating anecdote tucked into a piece on Monday that reveals Zuckerberg had a kind of quasi-bury the hatchet meeting with Cook in the private Allen & Co. encounter, where Zuckerberg asked the Apple CEO how he would deal with Facebook’s worsening Cambridge Analytica scandal if he were in Mark’s shoes. Cook’s response stunned him — the Facebook CEO was told he should immediately delete any information about people that he’d collected outside of Facebook’s core apps. Zuckerberg should have known then and there that Facebook would eventually arrive at the point where it now finds itself this week, with the newest version of iOS now letting users tell companies like Facebook that, sorry, we don’t want to be tracked around the Internet anymore.
Apple in recent days made no bones about what’s coming starting today, spelling out the changes very clearly in an update for app developers. “When submitting your app for review, any other form of tracking — for example, by name or email address — must be declared in the product page’s App Store Privacy Information section and be performed only if permission is granted through AppTrackingTransparency. You’ll also need to include a purpose string in the system prompt to explain why you’d like to track the user, per App Store Review Guideline 5.1.2(i). These requirements apply to all apps starting April 26, 2021.”
Facebook, not surprisingly, has pushed back hard on this and launched a splashy marketing campaign to try in vain to rally users to its side in light of these coming changes from Apple. Even today at the eleventh hour, for example, I’m still seeing feel-good posts from Facebook in my news feed, posts that are desperate to convince users that “Good ideas deserve to be found,” the implication being that for many small businesses, they won’t be anymore if users disallow the ability to track their individual activity going forward.
“Over the past few years, Apple started to aggressively drive a conversation about privacy, and as such, consumer awareness will only increase,” DataGrail CEO and co-founder Daniel Barber told me about this. His company helps businesses manage compliance with GDPR and similar kinds of data privacy regulations.
“(Apple’s) new App Tracking Transparency feature informs people head-on with what’s happening to their personal data. By adding a pop-up in apps, Apple is forcing a conversation about privacy that was previously tucked away in privacy policies and (terms & conditions). Consumers will finally be asked — at the right time — how they want their personal data handled.”