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Security & Privacy

Facebook’s new low: Paying for a study that says Apple fails at privacy

By Nadeem Sarwar June 1, 2021, 10:31 pm
Facebook apple feud pocketnow

Facebook truly, really hates the new privacy measures Apple introduced with iOS 14.5 last month. Called App Tracking Transparency, the new framework makes it mandatory for apps to explicitly ask user permission in order to track them – an activity that serves as the foundation for serving targeted ads. Facebook has been opposing it ever since Apple first revealed the plans, and even went on to launch a whole campaign in the name of protecting small businesses. Apple still went ahead. But the injury is apparently deep for the social media titan. Deep enough that the company funded research with the sole purpose of criticizing the new privacy guidelines, and how it is harmful to both users as well as the competition.


Not cool, Facebook!

The title of the aforementioned ‘Apple Antagonizing’ study is pretty self-explanatory in itself – Harming Competition and Consumers under the Guise of Protecting Privacy: An Analysis of Apple’s iOS 14 Policy Updates. Published earlier today on a research repository called SSRN (Social Science Research Network), the 23-page report talks about how the new changes play in Apple’s favor as the company keeps tightening its grip around the advertisement business conducted across its mobile ecosystem, tilting the scales on its side while hurting the competition. The paper argues that this seemingly anti-competitive behavior is harmful to customers in the long run.

So far, so good. The intentions seem benevolent, as Apple is currently at the center of a huge anti-trust investigation itself for stifling rivals in the music streaming game. Except, the research was funded by Facebook itself. And this anomaly can be spotted on the very first page of the study, where the footnote unearths Facebook’s hand behind it. Here’s what it says:

“Huber C. Hurst Eminent Scholar Chair in Law and Professor, University of Florida Levin College of Law and Piramal Associate Professor of Business Administration, HBS. We gratefully acknowledge support from Facebook, Inc. in funding this analysis. The views expressed here are solely our own.”

And just in case you’re wondering what the paper is all about, here’s the executive summary to give you an idea:

“Apple’s iOS 14 update represents an anti-competitive strategy disguised as a privacy-protecting measure. Apple now prohibits non-Apple apps from using information essential to providing relevant, personalized advertising, without explicit user opt-in. And users may opt-in only after they are shown an ominous and misleading prompt about “tracking,” one that Apple’s own apps and services need not display, because consumers are automatically “opted in” to Apple’s own tracking. Apple’s policy will have the pernicious effects of enhancing the dominance of iOS among mobile operating systems (OSs) and the dominance of its own apps and services within the iOS ecosystem, while reducing consumer choice and devastating the free-app ecosystem.”

Well, it appears that Facebook is not going down without a fight, even if that means employing questionable methods to accomplish its goal. In the past, Facebook has claimed that the App Tracking Transparency framework has less to do with safeguarding the privacy of users, and more with profits. The social media titan has accused Apple of making it harder for third-parties to milk some ad revenue in a bid to fill its own coffers.

Apple, on the other hand, has argued that users must have a choice whether they want to be tracked across apps and websites to be served targeted ads based on their activity. Early estimates indicated that less than 5 percent of users are okay with being tracked, as a majority of users disabled the tracking feature. It is also worth noting here that the stance taken by Facebook against Apple and its proposed changes has even faced criticism from its own employees. And at one point, Facebook was even said to be preparing a blockbuster anti-trust lawsuit against Apple.


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