Apple says its new software update released this week is necessary to protect your privacy. Facebook furiously disagrees. Why has iOS 14.5 sparked a war between the two tech giants?
What is iOS 14.5?
If you’re amongst the one billion people on the planet with an active iPhone in their pocket, you’ve probably been asked to install iOS 14.5 in the last 48 hours. Unveiled on Monday, the update includes new emojis and the option to unlock your phone whilst wearing a mask.
Most notably though, iOS 14.5 allows you to block apps from tracking your data. Until now, apps have been able to share all kinds of information about you with advertisers - Apple’s update aims to stop this.
Why is it so controversial?
Some tech companies hate the new App Tracking Transparency feature. Facebook makes $80 billion a year by selling personalised ads - this income disappears if users stop allowing the site to track their data.
The update has triggered a bitter row between Apple and Facebook, and their CEOs Tim Cook and Mark Zuckerberg. In December, Facebook took out full page ads in several newspapers attacking Apple for “changing the internet as we know it - for the worse.”
Does iOS 14.5 hurt anyone other than Facebook?
Facebook would like you to think that the answer to this question is yes. They recently released a statement saying: “Apple’s latest update threatens the personalised ads that millions of small businesses rely on to find and reach customers.”
Without targeted ads, businesses may indeed struggle. But Facebook has an appalling record on data privacy. The company was dragged into a huge scandal in 2018, after the personal data of 50 million people was used without consent by the UK firm Cambridge Analytica.
Will any of this affect me?
The first time you open an app after installing iOS 14.5, you’ll be asked: “Allow this app to track your activity across other companies’ apps and websites?” If you select: “Ask App Not to Track”, then… no more personalised ads.
By tracking your location, what other apps you use, and how long you spend looking at certain posts, companies like Facebook build a profile of you - known as an IDFA. According to a report from Apple this year, the average app has six trackers which collect information on you. Without your IDFA, apps can’t sell your data to advertisers.
So I can stop apps from tracking me now?
For now, yes. But there are reports that apps like Snapchat and TikTok will try to get around Apple’s new rules. They both rely heavily on money from advertisers.
Apple executive Craig Federighi told The Wall Street Journal that apps which break the rules “might not be able to provide updates” or “could even be removed from the store”. But not all experts are convinced. TikTok is owned by a Chinese company, so a ban could severely damage Apple’s business in China.
Will the row between Apple and Facebook get worse?
It’s certainly not going away. Even before Apple announced ‘AppTrackingTransparency’ in June 2020, relations between the two Silicon Valley giants were frosty. After Tim Cook criticised Facebook in a 2018 interview, it is rumoured that Mark Zuckerbeg ordered his employees to start using Android phones.
Apple says it cares about privacy. Facebook accuses them of wanting to dominate the tech market, and recently said in a statement: “We are not fooled.” With iOS 14.5, the war of words has become a more open kind of conflict.
- Are you happy to give apps personal information if it means seeing content you’re more likely to enjoy?
- Imagine you work for Apple, and you want to persuade people that iOS 14.5 will protect their privacy. Design an advert that Apple could run in newspapers.
- Apple usually releases major iOS (operating system) updates for phones once a year.
- Personalised ads
- Adverts which have been specifically targeted to you based on your online activity.
- Chief Executive Officers
- Cambridge Analytica.
- A UK company that collapsed in 2018 after it was revealed they sold personal Facebook data acquired through different apps to political parties around the world.
- Every phone user has their own unique ‘Identifier for Advertisers’ which monitors their activity. Apple’s update gives users the power to block this for specific apps.
- Craig Federighi is Apple's Senior Vice President of Software Engineering.
- Silicon Valley
- A region in California where many of the largest tech companies have their headquarters.
- Google’s mobile operating system. Widely considered to be the largest rival to the iPhone.