Apple released iOS 14.5 last week, introducing a host of features such as new Siri voices, unlocking an iPhone with your Apple Watch, and AirTags support among others. However, one change in particular that will have the biggest impact was the arrival of AppTracking Transparency framework, which has far-reaching implications for user privacy and how developers pitch ads. Facebook was not too happy about it, and has now started showing a notification to users that Apple might not take very kindly.
Spotted first by reporter Ashkan Soltani, Facebook and Instagram apps for iOS have started showing a prompt that tells users to accept ad-tracking, because that’s what helps keep these apps free. The message appears on the prompt notification where Apple allows developers to explain why they want to track their activity across apps and websites. This is necessary because apps now have to explicitly ask users for their permission to collect identifying data for showing them targeted ads. Of course, users can choose to reject it, and that will be the end of the story.
“Help keep Facebook free of charge” pic.twitter.com/mOB9WJpz9A
— ashkan soltani (@ashk4n) April 30, 2021
A scare tactic that might backfire for Facebook?
Facebook is calling the prompt Educational Screen, in case you were wondering. However, telling users that this tracking is necessary for keeping Facebook and Instagram free is nothing short of a scare tactic into making users believe that they might possibly have to pay for using these services if they choose to disable ad tracking. Apple clearly mentions on the support page that the system prompt must explain why a developer would like to track users. Scaring them into believing that their days of using Facebook and Instagram for free are numbered is definitely not a good move.
But that’s not all. It could also land Facebook in a regulatory pickle over misleading advertising. Until 2019, Facebook used to openly advertise that it is, and will always be, free. Of course, the company later removed that line quietly from its advertising campaign, while CEO Mark Zuckerberg also hinted at the possibility of a paid version of Facebook. But what about users who signed up for Facebook primarily due to the allure of the service being free forever?
Even though the prompt has started appearing to users after the release of iOS 14.5, Facebook gave a glimpse of it in December last year. Back then, Facebook launched an attack against the proposed changes around ad tracking and Apple’s new policies, claiming that Apple’s move will hurt small businesses. It now remains to be seen how Apple responds to the scare tactic, and whether it falls in the domain of behavior that violates App Store guidelines.
Apple has already made it clear that all apps have to abide by the new AppTracking Transpateny framework, and those that go against it risk being removed from the App Store. However, using scare tactics that force users to change their minds and give an app permission to track them certainly doesn’t sound right.