Facebook and Instagram notices in iOS apps tell users tracking helps keep them ‘free of charge’

Bill Mount

Facebook is continuing its campaign against Apple’s iOS 14 privacy updates, adding a notice within its iOS app telling users the information it collects from other apps and websites can “help keep Facebook free of charge.” A similar message was seen on Instagram’s iOS app (Facebook is Instagram’s parent company). […]

Facebook is continuing its campaign against Apple’s iOS 14 privacy updates, adding a notice within its iOS app telling users the information it collects from other apps and websites can “help keep Facebook free of charge.” A similar message was seen on Instagram’s iOS app (Facebook is Instagram’s parent company). Technology researcher Ashkan Soltani first noted the new pop-up notices on Saturday. They appear as part of an explanation of the updates to iOS 14 rules.

“This version of iOS requires us to ask for permission to track some data from this devices to improve your ads. Learn how we limit the use of this information if you don’t turn on this device setting,” the pop-up screen reads. “We use information about your activity received form other apps and websites to: show you ads that are more personalized, help keep Facebook free of charge [and] support businesses that rely on ads to reach their customers.” (I wasn’t able to get this nag screen to show up on my iPhone which is running iOS 14.5).

The new opt-in requirements in the latest versions of iOS 14, including iOS 14.5, require developers to get express consent from device owners to allow their Identifier for Advertisers (IDFA) to be shared and collected across apps. Under Apple’s new policy, app developers are still able to use other information a user provides for targeted advertising, even if the user opts out of letting the app track them, but that information can’t be shared with another company for ad tracking.

If developers try to get around the opt-in requirement, or try to replace the IDFA with another piece of identifying information such as an email address, that app will be considered in violation of the opt-in requirement. The rules also apply to Apple’s own apps.

Facebook has been a vocal critic of Apple’s iOS 14 privacy updates, arguing that the privacy changes could hurt small businesses which may rely on Facebook’s ad network to reach customers. In statements to the press and in newspaper ads, Facebook has said Apple is encouraging new business models for apps so they rely less on advertising and more on subscriptions, which would potentially give Apple a cut.

But the “keep Facebook/Instagram free” tactic seems to run counter to Facebook’s long-standing tagline which indicated the company was “free and always will be.” Of course, Facebook quietly removed that slogan from its homepage in 2019, and CEO Mark Zuckerberg didn’t rule out a paid version of Facebook when he testified before Congress in 2018. “There will always be a version of Facebook that is free,” he said.

Facebook didn’t reply to a request for comment Sunday. But Zuckerberg called Apple out during Facebook’s January earnings call, referring to Apple as one of his company’s biggest competitors. “Apple has every incentive to use their dominant platform position to interfere with how our apps and other apps work, which they regularly do to preference their own,” Zuckerberg said. “This impacts the growth of millions of businesses around the world, including with the upcoming iOS 14 changes.”

Apple didn’t immediately reply to a request for comment Sunday.

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