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Facebook escalates feud with Apple over iOS privacy changes

The social network releases a new ad claiming changes in Apple's mobile software will hurt small businesses and consumers.

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Angela Lang/CNET

Facebook is doubling down on its criticism of Apple with another ad claiming that the iPhone maker's upcoming privacy changes to its mobile operating system will harm consumers by making "the internet much more expensive."

Apple announced several new privacy updates for iOS at its Worldwide Developers Conference earlier this year, including a feature called App Tracking Transparency that would require people to opt in to apps collecting their data rather than needing them to opt out. The update threatens to uproot several ad-tracking features in apps, including Facebook. In September, Apple decided to delay the feature's rollout to 2021 so developers could have more time to make necessary changes. 

The new ad, slated to run in the The Wall Street Journal, New York Times and the Washington Post on Thursday, targets Apple's privacy changes. The social network also ran full-page newspaper ads on Wednesday saying the feature in iOS 14, expected to be released early next year, will hurt small businesses. The company then expanded on its position in a blog post, saying that Apple's new policy is "more about profit than privacy." 

Facebook's criticism of Apple is the latest in an ongoing public fight between two of the world's largest tech companies. The social network, which has also been under fire for failing to safeguard user privacy, views Apple's changes as an attack on personalized advertising. Facebook makes most of its money from ads, allowing the company to avoid charging people a subscription fee to use the social network.

Facebook has previously said the iOS update would mean less profit for advertisers because of less effective tracking. In the ads on Wednesday, Facebook says: "While limiting how personalized ads can be used does impact larger companies like us, these changes will be devastating to small businesses."

Thursday's ad states that Apple's software update will "change the internet as we know it -- for the worse."

Apple has defended the tracking changes, saying they give users more control. In a public letter last month, Jane Horvath, the company's privacy chief, called out Facebook for its data collection practices and said Apple remains "fully committed" to its app tracking transparency feature and other privacy protections.

"Facebook executives have made clear their intent is to collect as much data as possible across both first and third party products to develop and monetize detailed profiles of their users, and this disregard for user privacy continues to expand to include more of their products," Horvath wrote. 

On Thursday, Apple CEO Tim Cook tweeted that Facebook could continue to collect user data as long as it got permission first. "We believe users should have the choice over the data that is being collected about them and how it's used," Cook tweeted with a photo showing the notification users would see on an iOS device. "Facebook can continue to track users across apps and websites as before, App Tracking Transparency in iOS 14 will just require that they ask for your permission first." 

Dan Levy, who oversees Facebook's ads and business products, said during a press call on Wednesday that Apple was "behaving anti-competitively by using their control of the App Store to benefit their bottom line at the expense of creators and small businesses." If services turn away from ads and start charging a subscription fee or in-app payments, Apple benefits because the company makes money from fees charged to developers, Levy said. 

The impact to Facebook's business will be "less severe" because the company has a diverse ads business with more than 10 million advertisers. Compared with small businesses, he said, Facebook "will be fine."

"This is not just a tech fight over different pieces of technology and policy," Levy said. "This is a set of changes and a start on what we believe is a long strategic move from Apple towards fundamentally changing how the free internet and advertising works for small businesses."

Steve Satterfield, a director of privacy and public policy at Facebook, also said during the press call it will also support Epic Games, the company behind the popular video game Fortnite, which filed a lawsuit against Apple earlier this year alleging the iPhone maker engaged in anti-competitive practices by demanding up to a 30% cut of app sales made on the iPhone and iPad. Epic Games also sued Google and Fortnite was removed from Apple's App Store and the Google Play Store.

"We are prepared to provide relevant information in their litigation about how Apple's policies are hurting the millions of people and businesses who use our services," Satterfield said.

Epic didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Facebook ads criticizing Apple on Wednesday, which were earlier reported by Bloomberg, appeared in newspapers including The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal. 

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