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Data Battle: Facebook vs. Apple

Amplification / 1.6.21 / By Michael McGinnis

Two of tech’s biggest titans are squaring off in a battle for your data

Did you hear about this? Apple has a new feature called App Tracking Transparency that’s due to drop early this year. It’s part of Apple's iOS14 update that will allow users to opt in to tracking rather than opt out. This means that instead of being tracked from the get-go, data will remain private and will only be tracked if users allow it.

Upset with the news, last month Facebook decided to close out 2020 with a heated right hook to Apple’s mainframe by releasing a full-page ad in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Washington Post against this privacy update, claiming it was “… standing up to Apple for small businesses everywhere.”

Apple was not amused.

Ladies and gentlemen, in the golden tones of ring announcer Michael Buffer, LLLLLLET’S GET READY TO RUMBLEEEEE!


If one ad weren’t enough, how about two? With its second newspaper ad (yes, I said newspaper … interesting), Facebook doubled down on its claim that Apple’s new opt-in privacy changes will do nothing but uppercut small businesses in the pocketbook.

Here’s what Facebook’s getting at:

An opt-in system means less user data > Less user data means fewer personalized ads > Fewer personalized ads mean fewer conversions > Fewer conversions mean less money for small businesses

Thus, Apple is hurting small business.

According to Facebook, “the average small business advertiser stands to see a cut of over 60% in their sales for every dollar they spend.”


They go on to point out that because of App Tracking Transparency, free services will have to start charging money for their apps to make up for the loss in profit due to crummy ads. And because Apple takes a cut of all app store purchases, it stands to make a bunch of money off this.

In the end, Facebook wants you to know that Apple’s “creating a policy … that’s about profit, not privacy.”


For every jab Facebook has thrown, Apple’s been waiting with a PR blitz of its own.

The new App Tracking Transparency update? Apple created it because, in their own words, “we believe that privacy is a fundamental human right.”

Want another taste? Check out what they had to say in a more recent statement: “We believe that this is a simple matter of standing up for our users. Users should know when their data is being collected and shared across other apps and websites—and they should have the choice to allow that or not.”

If Facebook feels targeted (no pun intended), that’s on them because Apple has assured everyone that the new feature applies to all developers, themselves included.

Besides, Apple CEO Tim Cook tweeted out that Facebook can continue tracking just like it did before, they’ll just have to ask permission first.

Ask and they’ll tell you: This change is all about privacy, not profit.

Where Does This Leave Consumers?

Despite all the digital and physical (What up, newspapers!) bickering, this actually seems like a good thing for consumers.

Apple’s move creates more privacy for users and tracking on their own terms, following in the footsteps of the GDPR, CCPA and Google’s end to cookies. No more data mining behind your screen.

With this more accessible authority, consumers can figure out just how targeted they want the ads they see to be.

Five Things Marketers Need To Know

While both sides have arguments, the future is trending toward empowering the people with the ability to steer clear of tracking unless they opt in. (Congrats, Apple.) With that said, here are five things all marketers should know:

1. Premium Data As tracking drops, so will the quality of impressions and reach. However, first-party data will be at an all-time premium. Start segmenting and get your custom audiences ready. Oh … and if you haven’t started an email list yet, do it now!

2. It’s Not All Gone! On top of everyone who will opt in to tracking for a more relevant ad experience, Facebook will still be able to pull data from users’ profiles and actions outside of the iOS system (think Android and desktop).

3. Pixel Perfect Facebook has already set expectations for how pixels can be used after the Apple update. Suffice it to say, there are A LOT of changes circulating around Aggregated Event Measurement. Check this link to get your pixels optimized before it's too late.

4. Marketing Mix You know this, but it’s worth a reminder—Facebook isn’t the only marketing channel out there. Make sure you have a healthy variety of channels to use so you can adjust budgets as needed.

5. Remember to Measure Here’s the deal: Until the update is out, nobody can truly say what its effect will be. So don’t throw in the towel just yet! Measure your results before and after the update before making any big campaign decisions.

In the end, this looks like a losing battle for Facebook’s targeting capabilities. With the internet bouncing back from the freewheeling days of data collection, it’s going to be important to adjust your marketing along with the times.

By keeping on top of your data and finding new ways to improve the quality of your consumer interactions, this is one fight you can be prepared for. No boxing bags necessary.


Michael McGinnis

Mike McGinnis is DS+CO’s content manager and social media enthusiast with a proven record of creating big ideas that generate real impact.