Facebook suing Apple over app privacy is a bit rich

Facebook, a privacy-last company, is reportedly preparing to sue Apple, a privacy-first company, over the App Tracking Transparency feature that’s coming in the spring.

The very public dispute between Facebook and Apple over privacy and ad-driven business models won’t end anytime soon as the former is preparing an antitrust lawsuit against the latter. Facebook will complain that Apple’s abused its power in the smartphone market by forcing developers to abide by App Store rules that its own apps don’t have to follow.

The Information notes:

The legal preparations by Facebook signal that the feud between the companies could further escalate, though ultimately Facebook may decide not to file a suit. Its executives are facing internal resistance from some employees over its public campaign against Apple, a fight that recently has centered on a change to iPhone software that will make it harder for Facebook and its advertisers to track people across apps.

The social network also has iMessage in its crosshair.

Speaking with analysts and investors, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg called the upcoming App Tracking Transparency feature bad news for the ad industry and companies whose business model relies on advertising and selling your data to the highest bidder.

Facebook, the king of privacy theft

The Washington Post quotes Zuckerberg as saying the following:

Apple has every incentive to use their dominant platform position to interfere with how our apps and other apps work, which they regularly do. They say they are doing this to help people, but the moves clearly track their competitive interests.

But Zuckerberg didn’t stop there.

He went on to say that Apple’s iMessage and FaceTime services benefit from being preinstalled on iPhones. He added that the upcoming anti-tracking changes in iOS 14 will make it harder for rival services like Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp to compete with Apple’s offering.

iMessage is a key linchpin of their ecosystem. It comes pre-installed on every iPhone and they preference it with private APIs and permissions, which is why iMessage is the most used messaging service in the US.

If you’ve been following this industry for some time, it should be pretty clear to you why Facebook sees Apple as one of its biggest competitors. This clash between the two industry titans could end up having far-reaching consequences for the ad and tracking industries. That being said, Facebook is the last company that should take Apple to court over app privacy.

Facebook’s public campaign against Apple

In recent weeks, Facebook’s been trying to recruit small business owners using its platform to help it fight the Cupertino giant in the court of public opinion. In one of the ads, Facebook says Apple wants to “stop the Internet from being free.” The social network has been arguing that Apple requiring developers like Facebook to use its payment system makes it a lot harder to compete with the company in overlapping areas, like gaming, messaging and shopping.

Apple today announced that an upcoming release of iOS 14, iPadOS 14, and tvOS 14 in early spring will enable the new App Tracking Transparency feature. As Apple explains, this will require apps like Facebook that wish to track users across other apps and websites via Apple’s Identifier For Advertisers (IDFA) to do so using the new AppTrackingTransparency framework.

An iPhone displaying an app tracking prompt seeking permission to allow Facebook to track user activity
Image credit: Apple

The framework in turn puts up a prompt asking the user to confirm that they wish to permit tracking. Users could previously disable tracking across all apps that use this identifier. But come this spring, app tracking will switch from opt-out to opt-in, on an app-by-app basis.