Former Facebook employees detail impact of Apple's upcoming anti-tracking privacy feature

in General Discussion edited March 2021
A group of former Facebook employees describe the massive impact Apple's App Tracking Transparency feature will have on the social network, explaining why the company has been so vocal in protesting the change.


Speaking to CNBC, former Facebook staffers who worked on ad products and businesses detailed the importance of IDFA tracking, which will be explicitly opt-in on iOS starting this spring.

Expected to launch with iOS 14.5, Apple's App Tracking Transparency initiative requires developers to gain permission before tracking a user's device advertising identifier, or Identifier for Advertiser (IDFA) tag. The feature automatically opts users out of tracking by default, though users can allow tracking manually in settings or by interacting with a special dialogue box that appears when opening an app for the first time.

Facebook and others have pushed back against the change, guessing users will likely opt out of ad tracking when presented with the choice. That would deal a major blow to the bottom lines of ad tech companies.

According to former Facebook employees, the anti-tracking feature will block insight into a key metric called view-through conversions. The technology enables ad firms to measure the number of users who purchase goods after viewing, but not interacting with, an ad.

For example, a user might see an ad for a TV while scrolling through their feed, but doesn't tap on the accompanying link. They later purchase that TV or related item from a retailer that shares the consumer's IDFA with Facebook. Pairing IDFAs can therefore help quantify an ad's influence even if a user fails to directly interact with the original post.

Similarly, Facebook's Audience Network, which furnishes targeted ads on non-Facebook platforms, will be negatively impacted by Apple's IDFA screening decision. Also on the chopping block is access to analytics data outside of Facebook's suite of apps.

In protesting Apple's upcoming change, Facebook in December began to run newspaper ads warning of the havoc App Tracking Transparency will wreak on small businesses. It issued similar notices on its own platform. According to at least one former employee, however, those calls for action are slightly disingenuous.

Henry Love, a former employee on Facebook's small business team, told CNBC that many SMBs are unlikely to see a change in ad performance because they don't necessarily need the hyper accurate targeting data provided by IDFA. A coffee shop was cited as an example. Such an establishment typically limits targeting to broad categories like age and physical proximity to a brick-and-mortar store, information that is already available from Facebook's own apps.

"If you talked to any restaurant owner anywhere and asked them what IDFA is, I don't think any of them would know what that is," Love said. "It's affecting Facebook at scale. Not the small business owners."

That said, well-funded start-ups could be vulnerable once the feature goes live.

"The only people targeting across mobile, web and Facebook Audience Network, they're not really small businesses," Love said. "They're sophisticated, VC-backed startups. They're not your typical SMB."

Apple's App Tracking Transparency feature is currently in beta testing as part of iOS 14.5 and should launch in the coming weeks.


  • Reply 1 of 20
    It's hard to have sympathy for any of the participants in the surveillance industry, but this article makes me wonder if I'm being a little too harsh on advertisers. Ever since the inception of advertising there's been a huge element of uncertainty, and the only measurement possible was the net change in sales revenue which then has to be adjusted to reflect seasonal, societal and other variations that are themselves hard to measure.

    I've got no issue with anyone using a process of measurement to make decisions based on real world information, and seeking more accurate measurement isn't intrinsically a bad thing. If I'm trying to measure the influence a piece of advertising has, then sure I'd like to know if someone saw it but didn't act on it straight away. That's something that can be inferred from traditional methods, but actual measurement is better.

    I question, though, both how accurate this IDFA process is (we can assume very, given the efforts to block it) and how valuable that information ends up being. As the article says, it's only the most sophisticated advertisers who care about it - which I take to mean that the vast majority of advertisers don't see anything particularly valuable in it. So this problem is being caused, as usual, by a small proportion of the population who are nowadays able to leverage technology to a shocking degree to affect everyone on the planet with an online presence. And most of them don't care about the customer experience, as evidenced by the number of proposals one receives for prices on a product one has already purchased. Creepy and lame, as Gruber said.

    I wonder if those people are feeling very insecure about the intrinsic value of the products and services they're bringing into the world. It's one thing to push hard for the best possible performance from a successful business that satisfies customer needs; it's another to squeeze blood from a stone trying to make an unviable proposition profitable.
  • Reply 2 of 20
    Oh well — sorry, Mark … hugs and kisses
    edited March 2021 baconstangpulseimagesozzieboyAlex1Nwatto_cobra
  • Reply 3 of 20
    I’m all for Apple’s efforts as some of this stuff is eye opening if not disturbing. However, necessity is the mother of invention. If trackers replaced cookies, some innovative people will imagine and build a new from of tracking to replace this. Let the games re-begin. 
  • Reply 4 of 20
    chaickachaicka Posts: 256member
    It’s rubbish of Facebook argument.

    As a consumer, I performs my own research on products I intend to buy, be it physical visits to retailers, word of mouth from extended family or friends, search engines, etc. If it happens that Facebook dished me ads relating to these products that I end up buying from an online store, and they get credited as success influence for their ads???

    I am totally behind Apple on this one. As consumer, we should have choice and control over how our digital footprint is being managed, not being invaded silently without choice to opt out. Same thing telcos are doing - ads to your mobile number and we becoming their product to sell to businesses who choose to put ads via telco. Unacceptable!!!

    As a small business owner, the last thing our business needs is false-positive claims of success for ads we choose to buy/put out. IMO, if it isn’t direct ad link purchase, it isn’t counted towards to ad platform. Period!
    edited March 2021 iyfcalvinapplguywilliamlondonfotoformatVermelhopulseimagesjony0ozzieboywatto_cobra
  • Reply 5 of 20
    Poor Facebook, just trying to help the small businesses owner.  I bet they give millions to help out small businesses every year.  /s
  • Reply 6 of 20
    Fred257Fred257 Posts: 220member
    A smart coder would instead find a work around.  Mark lost his touch at invading our privacy?
  • Reply 7 of 20
    Oh well — sorry, Mark … hugs and kisses
    Yup...Tots and pears.
  • Reply 8 of 20
    applguyapplguy Posts: 232member
    You know what I did to track ad success when I owned my business and had ads in the newspaper, phone book, mailers, etc? Ask the customer how they heard about us. The ads may be different today but the small business game is still the same. 
  • Reply 9 of 20
    EsquireCatsEsquireCats Posts: 1,257member
    Facebook didn't get to where they are by being a good commercial citizen. When surveying their own staff as to whether Facebook provides a net-positive to society, the answer was not a resounding yes, but rather a mere 51% indicated agreement. This is from what should be the most biased, the most pro-facebook people on the planet. 

    This is the reality of the situation. Facebook is an ad business that peddles engagement in exchange for views - how they get that engagement involves deliberately feeding users of the website a set of materials which are controversial, repulsive and most likely to generate anger. This might seem benign on the surface, it's not. It's the idea that you can be reckless with disinformation for the sole purpose of getting longer screen time. This has led to mainstreaming conspiracy theories, destroying the personal lives of people who have done nothing wrong, and other examples including vigilante violence, shootings and similar. Facebook peddles in territory that the FBI deem to be the greatest threat to the country: white nationalism, white supremacists, racist terrorists and other sources of organised violence and domestic terrorism. Repeatedly failing to act when this has been brought to their attention, and in many other examples publicly refusing to act.

    Facebook know this, in fact during the 2020 US elections facebook agreed to not deliberately push as many known sources of disinformation - this also led to a decrease in engagement.

    So why should you care that a mere action to protect your privacy from digital-creeps is going to harm their revenue stream. You shouldn't care, you should be celebrating it, because the benefits extend beyond your personal privacy and safety.

    The concept that there can be a parasite to an individual's stress and even the harmony of society seems abstract, but here we are.

  • Reply 10 of 20
    qwerty52qwerty52 Posts: 364member
    The top of the arrogance!
    Zuckerberg knows perfectly that the people do not want to be traced and do not want adds, but still is doing every thing possible to fight Apple’s decision to protect the users.
    Zuck, you don’t want the people to have a choice. This is  puur dictatorship! Change your business model or f*** off
    edited March 2021 fotoformatradarthekatAlex1Nwatto_cobra
  • Reply 11 of 20
    wizard69wizard69 Posts: 13,377member
    It is shocking how deeply the advertising industry believes their own nonsense.    If anything these days, I'm more likely to not buy something advertised on the web.   It just pisses me off to no end the incessant ads burning up my bandwidth.    It really is theft of services.
  • Reply 12 of 20
    kamiltonkamilton Posts: 282member
    Apple is doing the right thing here and is alone in its willingness to put privacy ahead of potential revenue.  No other major player is making that trade.  Facebook is fading.  It was just the first really successful platform of its kind.  As the slack in the privacy rope is taken back up, which consumers will eventually demand, FB’s viability will suffer.  
  • Reply 13 of 20
    dewmedewme Posts: 4,745member
    What’s missing from the informal responses of these former Facebook employees is how the feedback gathered from IDFA linkage is used in subsequent targeted advertising campaigns. What is described above is really more akin to telemetry used to measure ad effectiveness and less like surveillance intended to observe and record individual behaviors. I’m much less concerned about telemetry than surveillance, but I see Facebook’s main business as being nothing less than a massive data warehouse that they slice up into different data marts to sell to their real customers. I have no doubt that they have a much broader portfolio than what your average Facebook user can even begin to imagine. Calling Facebook an advertising business isn’t really accurate. They are a data broker with a massive data warehouse.
  • Reply 14 of 20
    The scary and obscene thing about this technology isn’t it’s use in ads for small businesses. I’ve used Facebook ads, and they used to give us decent return before they got too expensive, literally doubling several times over the period we looked at them.
    it isn't even corporate sized advertising that’s an issue. As others have said, these insights are tenuous at best for tailored ads that are ubiquitous online, including this site.
    No. The obscene part is for political ads, social issue ads, foreign influence ads, ads mimicking native content, ads propagating lies, conspiracies and chaos through undermining facts and information that the internet could have been a solid reference for.
    The dispersal of blatantly false and chaotic uncertainty is a huge problem of this era, and these tools are most powerful and most disgusting when used fit these ends.
  • Reply 15 of 20
    darelrexdarelrex Posts: 108member
    Apple has the winning argument here, because it is not actually disabling tracking — it's just giving each individual user the option to allow/disallow tracking in any particular app. Therefore, FaceBook's counterargument becomes, de facto, "every user should be forced to allow tracking whether they want to or not."
  • Reply 16 of 20
    I know what IDFA is, but IDKFA adds the keys to the mix so I don't know why more people don't opt for that.

    More seriously, I get what the engineers are saying and I agree with the first poster that it's a way of providing advertisers a better idea of how their advertising is influencing people. That said, it's a consumer's right to say "no, I'm not letting you into my mindset and methodology." Just because I'm probably going to let Facebook do their thing across all my devices doesn't mean I don't think everyone else shouldn't be given the option to not let them do their thing on theirs.
  • Reply 17 of 20
    command_fcommand_f Posts: 396member
    FB says that collecting this data is important for showing ad buyers how their ads are performing. So we should expect that data to be destroyed after a few days because it's no longer relevant and, in the meantime, to be firewalled from other data about users because it has been collected without their knowledge or permission?

    No, I didn't think so either.
  • Reply 18 of 20
    i've been writing ads for 30 years. Here's a headline for you, Zukerberg and Co:

    Piss Off.

  • Reply 19 of 20
    Thoughts and prayers. Maybe.
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