There’s this delicious feeling once vindication comes to town. That moment when there’s proof that someone is right, or acted out of reasonable justification.
I don’t need to tell you more about this Facebook vs Apple situation, and how iOS 14.5 spun a series of ads trying to paint Facebook like the Robin Hood of tech, standing in supposed support of small businesses, and how their ability to track you helps them target you with more effective ads.
The question is: who is the Robin Hood of you? I’m not gonna say it’s Apple because if that were the case, we’d all get free phones, just as much as Facebook is free to the consumer. The problem is that if Facebook was truly the Robin Hood of tech, they would support small businesses by giving their targeted ads for free as well, and you know that’s not the case.
Anyways, back to vindication. Not sure if you caught the news yesterday, but the numbers are in, and it seems that all those Facebook Ads weren’t effective. Only a meager 4% of iOS users opted-in to get tracked in the US, and that’s after a couple of weeks since the launch.
The numbers were actually worse before that. Not sure if Apple ran any ads to help convince users against the practice, but even if that were the case, I think that results spoke louder than words. And fine, if we’re fair, it could have to do with the fact that by default you have to dig through settings to enable yourself to be tracked. Thing is, I feel that if this were as enticing as switching your wallpaper, the average consumer would figure it out.
Sadly, this is one of those cases where morals come into play more than anything, and, by morals, I mean the textbook definition: “standards of behavior; principles of right and wrong.”
Is it right for you to be tracked for someone else’s benefit? In my opinion, the answer is no.
Think of it this way, this practice is actually not new, but what we had in the past was nowhere near what this is now. Years ago when marketing didn’t depend on social media, we called these Focus Groups. Marketing agencies “hire” people to voluntarily participate in the study of a product, and sometimes this would require you to allow your behavior to be tracked in order for the experts to understand your behavior towards the product, the brand, or even the politician.
Notice how I clarify that companies would hire you. This wasn’t a case where you bought a gadget with a specific purpose and ended up with a silent trojan horse no one would tell you about. If you bought a car, it would take you from point A to point B, not study your driving patterns to help advertisers understand the places you visit in order to sell you their ads. Get where I’m going?
In the past, to become part of a focus group, companies had to be explicit about what was required of you before you could opt-in. Even if you did, the conditions were clear, and in most cases, the requirements weren’t permanent.
Fast forward to 2021. At what moment did we get to the point where you paid hundreds of dollars for a smartphone, and this product you bought to communicate, make phone calls and get entertained also became the means for you to become a product? If anyone told you at the time that you just paid hundreds of dollars for a shiny gadget that will serve you on a platter for someone else to make even more money out of you than what you already just paid, would you agree?
Would you feel comfortable with serving a purpose that doesn’t pay you in return? If you think about it, you have just bought into a sort of focus group where no one will pay you for your service.
I think we can all agree that if you were to have been prompted with these exact questions the moment you bought your smartphone, you would either think twice, or you would’ve asked the most simple question in human existence: What’s in it for me?
Other than Amazon giving you a discount to run their ads on your smartphone or Kindle, when was the last time that any company that’s using you as data offered you a discount on your smartphone purchase? To quote Heath Ledger’s Joker in The Dark Knight: “If you’re good at something, never do it for free.”
If you were offered a subsidy on your smartphone price, or any sort of discount on your phone, that would make this situation a bit less cringeworthy, but at the same time, I feel that undermines the true value of your data. If Facebook was willing to run a complete ad campaign, I’m sure a good deal of their value proposition lies in the balance.
I did have some interesting debates with our COO Brandon Miniman on why he wants to be tracked, and also fellow friend Nick Gray from Phandroid. I do understand and respect the opinion of others in the fact that targeted ads can be more useful than irrelevant ones.
Yes, I do remember the time when I cracked up over an ad about Pampers when my younger son was already 8 years old. If we see this solely based on the context of smart advertisement, I can agree that I’d rather have a company tailor their ads to the things I’m looking to buy. Heck, I even think the recent fire deals I received before iOS 14.5 were the direct result of this.
I decided to opt-out, even with all these educated discussions, and it’s for a deeper reason. My problem with those arguments is that you’re not just being targeted to be sold products to. If the handling of election campaigns around the world has taught us anything over the past 5 years, it’s that you’re also being targeted to be sold ideas to.
You have no control over how your information will be used, or what kind of ads you’ll receive. Most people didn’t even know that “promoted” means “paid for,” on their feed, as they endlessly scroll through content on social media. As a result, I’ve already had horrible arguments with good friends about topics like politics, vaccinations, and even social behavior, all because they read an article which they later realized came from Facebook.
The fact that social media has little to no tools that can separate fact from fiction in these articles or videos is precisely the reason why I can’t opt-in to a system designed to promote every sort of advertisement, regardless of its integrity or the lack thereof. Facebook can tell you their mission is to connect the world, but if the price is for you to be fed a collection of unvetted lies disguised as truth, then I think I’m better off not being a part of it.
Things only get more hilarious when you then have Facebook defying Apple by playing banners that tell you that to keep Facebook free you should opt-in.
The Bottom Line
The beautiful part about living in a free society is that we can agree to disagree. I’m not here running an ad trying to convince you of anything, nor are we paying for this article to be promoted anywhere in order to try to stir your opinion in any way, shape, or form.
My purpose is also not to sit here and defend Apple for giving you the choice because it’s not like they didn’t create the system that allowed this in the first place. If you want more information on that, read more about the IDFA, or “Identifier For Advertisers” that was baked into iOS years ago.
It sort of explains how if you were looking for Jeans on one app, the website you’ll read next would then magically show you ads about Jeans. The idea that they created a tool that could give advertisers the opportunity to track you is also to blame.
If anything, I can praise Apple for realizing that they created a problem that should be addressed, and did so many years later. I sadly can’t praise Facebook, because even when Apple was clear that companies should not try to convince you to opt-in to being tracked, Facebook was already caught with banners telling you that tracking will help keep the service free. Let’s be real, it’s not as if ads won’t be run regardless of how much you accept or decline their claims.
If we’re to be even more honest, you don’t need Facebook. Facebook needs you. They can’t turn a profit if they don’t have a product, and that product is you. In absolutely every single business in the world, a middle man pays for the raw material it then converts to sell as something else. Never before had I heard a case where the company selling you banners on a paper is claiming to stand for your small business without showing a discount. The reader of that newspaper has nothing to do with that transaction, so it makes no common sense for Facebook to pretend that you get any benefit in whatever they sell to others.
Bottom line: if tracking doesn’t benefit you, why be a part of it?