Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Facebook’s Laughable Campaign Against iOS’ New Tracking Permissions Prompt

Andrés Arrieta of the Electronic Frontier Foundation:

In reality, a number of studies have shown that most of the money made from targeted advertising does not reach the creators of the content—the app developers and the content they host.  Instead, the majority of any extra money earned by targeted ads ends up in the pockets of these data brokers. Some names are very well-known, like Facebook and Google, but many more are shady companies that most users have never even heard of.  

Bottom line: “The Association of National Advertisers estimates that, when the “ad tech tax” is taken into account, publishers are only taking home between 30 and 40 cents of every dollar [spent on ads].” The rest goes to third-party data brokers who keep the lights on by exploiting your information, and not to small businesses trying to work within a broken system to reach their customers.

Flawed and insufficient as current privacy legislation may be, this is one reason I remain a supporter of its principles — even though giants are virtually unaffected. The bright spotlight placed on Amazon, Facebook, and Google allows the proliferation of shadowy ad tech companies that are orders of magnitude less valuable and, therefore, are virtually invisible to most web users. The market for bulk surveillance should not be a legitimate one. These laws may make it harder for startups to compete with giants, but vigorous competition between providers of creepy tracking should not be the goal.

Taking on the giants requires a comparable giant. Most of the biggest companies in tech treat privacy violations as a core product offering for advertisers. Apple is an exception. It may be taking this stance because it does not affect its own business, but it is only able to be such an aggressive campaigner for user privacy because it does not build its business around being creepy. That is not an accident. Further legislation will take a while, and antitrust lawsuits will be batted between expensive lawyers for years before they reach trial. But this is something users can choose to opt into or out of starting next year because we are, at last, being given a choice. Good.

Overall, AppTrackingTransparency is a great step forward for Apple. When a company does the right thing for its users, EFF will stand with it, just as we will come down hard on companies that do the wrong thing. Here, Apple is right and Facebook is wrong. Next step: Android should follow with the same protections. Your move, Google.

I like your optimism, Arrieta.