Apple has confirmed that we’re just a few days away now from the arrival of a huge mobile software upgrade in the form of iOS 14.5, which has been hotly anticipated for months now and which stands to potentially dramatically reshape the business of companies like Facebook. That is to say, companies that are heavily reliant on tracking users, a practice this new software upgrade should sharply curtail.
According to Apple, all app developers must start following Apple’s App Tracking Transparency framework starting Monday, April 26. That framework, remember, requires developers to get explicit permission from users if those developers want to track those users and their activity across apps. This would seem to put the iOS 14.5 release date on Monday, or (if the ATT framework needs to be firmly in place first) on Tuesday at the latest, as far as when we’d see the software upgrade released.
In an update to app developers Apple published this week, the iPhone maker spelled it out clearly that these changes are finally happening on Monday. “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. That campaign included Facebook taking out full-page ads against Apple inside several major newspapers, like The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times. The social network used those ads to lament Apple’s “forced software update” that the social network said will leave “your favorite cooking sites or sports blogs” with no way to make as much money from personalized ads as they ostensibly could before. Apple CEO Tim Cook, of course, has been firm in his insistence that the fault lies with Facebook, not Apple. “All we’re doing, Kara,” Cook told The New York Times’ Kara Swisher while being interviewed for her podcast Sway, “is giving the user the choice whether to be tracked or not. And I think it’s hard to argue against that. I’ve been shocked that there’s been pushback on this to this degree.”
Even now, with only a few days left to go before the arrival of iOS 14.5, Facebook’s marketing machine has still been working overtime on this issue. Shortly after Apple’s “Spring Loaded” event on Tuesday ended, for example, I saw a feel-good post from Facebook itself in my Facebook news feed, talking up how personalized ads have apparently helped ABQ Ax, an ax-throwing bar in Albuquerque, find more than 3,000 customers. Owner “Angela R.,” according to Facebook, “even found customers to sign up for league night. With the help of personalized ads, Angela and her axes have left a mark on Albuquerque. Good ideas, like ABQ Ax, deserves to be found.”