Facebook's worst fears have been realised over Apple's new iOS 14.5 software upgrade, which allows iPhone and iPad users to opt-out of ads that track their online activity.
Flurry Analytics - a company owned by US telco Verizon, which monitors app usage on 1 million phones, says that so far only 5 per cent of US users and 13 per cent worldwide have opted-in to tracking since April 25.
That's despite a Facebook opt-in/opt-out splash screen introducing the change (see below) that says "Help keep Facebook free of charge" - which seems to be a veiled warning that Facebook might have to introduce charges as an alternative revenue generation method if ads are blocked. In fact, there are no charges for those who opt-out, and Facebook has repeatedly said it will never charge users.
(There are two screens involved in any app's opt-in message - the first from the app's maker, where they make their pitch to track you around the web, the second a simple Ask App Not to Track/Allow pop-up from Apple.)
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Apple's new privacy push is aimed at ads via any app that tracks a user without their informed consent - but Facebook (which also owns Instagram and Whatsapp) loomed largest in Apple's build-up, with a screengrab featuring the social network included in its promotional material.
In the US, Facebook has taken out newspaper ads featuring small-business owners, who say they will be hit by Apple's move, which will undermine their ability to target ads (at least, without a user's consent).
Apple has countered with its own lobbying effort, creating a Day in the Life of your Data website, which shows how some apps and data brokers can mesh online and offline data to create a comprehensive profile of someone, usually without their knowledge. It has also said it will release its own tracking tools that protect privacy (Facebook has countered with its own aggregated or anonymised tracking feature), and that a similar move via its Safari browser on the desktop did not collapse the online advertising market.
The company has also won praise around the world from regulators and privacy advocates, including NZ Privacy Commissioner John Edwards, who called Apple's new opt-in push a "defining moment".
Facebook and Facebook-owned Instagram have been among the first apps to provide users with opt-in screens since the iOS 14.5 upgrade last month.
At this point, Apple is only lightly policing the new measure, engaging in discussions with apps that fail to follow it rather than barring them from its App Store.
And for all its fire and fury in the media, Facebook has said in a regulatory filing that it expects its ad revenue to continue to grow during the second half of 2021, despite iOS 14.5 and various regulatory headwinds.