FB, Instagram may soon charge iPhone owners to use apps

Facebook, Instagram may soon charge iPhone owners to use apps

Last week, Apple released the much-awaited iOS 14.5 update, which came with a crucial user-privacy security feature --App Tracking Transparency (ATT)-- that gave more control to users to block apps from tracking and storing user information.

Now, Facebook started pushing screen notifications to select people in the west to allow the company to track user data, or else the Facebook and Instagram apps may soon charge fees to use them.

It should be noted that Facebook has been the most vocal to oppose Apple's new ATT security feature, which by the way was first announced during the WWDC (World Wide Developer Conference) 2020 in June. It also ran several full-page ads on top dailies such as The Wall Street Journal, New York Times, and The Washington Post in the US.

Mark Zuckerberg, co-founder of Facebook warned Apple that the new feature would spell doom for small companies, which are already reeling under economic woes due to the Covid-19-induced lockdown.

Small app companies which offer free services, will be most affected as they lose out on revenue from ads. To sustain the business, they will have no choice but to ask consumers for subscription fees. This way, both the customer and the enterprise are affected. Also, Facebook noted that the user information will help the company in delivering personalized ads.

"Facebook is speaking up for small businesses. Apple’s new iOS 14 policy will have a harmful impact on many small businesses that are struggling to stay afloat and on the free internet that we all rely on more than ever," the company said in a blog post in December 2020.

It added-- "To help people make a more informed decision, we’re also showing a screen of our own, along with Apple’s. It will provide more information about how we use personalized ads, which support small businesses and keep apps free. If you accept the prompts for Facebook and Instagram, the ads you see on those apps won’t change. If you decline, you will still see ads, but they will be less relevant to you. Agreeing to these prompts doesn’t result in Facebook collecting new types of data. It just means that we can continue to give people better experiences. We feel that people deserve the additional context, and Apple has said that providing education is allowed."

But, Apple CEO Tim Cook in 2020 had shot back with a simple argument that users must be given the option to grant or reject permission to apps to track or store personal data.

Must read | CEO Tim Cook responds to Facebook's ad criticizing Apple

For several years, app developers used to create an IDFA (Identifier for Advertisers), wherein they link a mobile user with data points such as unique mobile ID, user's age, browsing history, location, relationship status, and others. As said before, they not only tracked users on their own apps, but also monitor user activities on other third-party apps and websites. 

With such information, apps push targeted ads on the phone's screen.  Big companies such as Facebook, Google, Amazon, and others always posted complicated terms and conditions that made users lose interest mid-way and just scroll down, and press the accept button. 

For long, users never knew that the app despite offering free services such as quick news around the world and interact with friends and family members online, were themselves had become a product.

Most of the firms used the user profile to market their products and also sell the information to the highest bidder such as data brokers, who again sell to their clients.

After announcing the new security ATT feature, Apple gave sufficient time to app developers to find an alternative way to improve user experience without prying on users.

Apple brings a new option to block apps from tracking users on iPhone. Credit: DH Photo/KVN Rohit

With the release of iOS 14.5 (& iPadOs 14.5) in late April, users in most of the global regions including India can now block apps from tracking them on their iPhones and iPads.

Users can go to Settings >> Privacy >> Tacking >> enable/disable Allow Apps to Request to Track

Now, as mentioned earlier Facebook has begun showing pop-up screens on its own app and Instagram with a message shown below.

"This version of iOS requires us to ask for permission to track some data from the devices to improve your ads. Learn how we limit the use of this information if you don’t turn on this device setting.

We use information about your activity received from other apps and websites to: 1 ) Show you ads that are more personalized; 2) Help keep Facebook/Instagram free of charge; 3)  Support businesses that rely on ads to reach their customers."

Pop-up notifications on Facebook and Instagram asking users to all apps to track them on phones. Credit: Facebook

Though Mark Zuckerberg-owned company has not explicitly mentioned how much they would charge customers to use its app, the message gives a strong hint it will be forced to charge fees sooner or later at least for those who chose to not share their user data.

What I have gauged from social media platforms, is that there is a mixed response. Some users are ready to pay the fees and want Facebook to stop tracking them, while others have vowed to delete the apps for good.

Stay tuned. We will be keeping our ears to the ground to get you the latest updates on the battle between Facebook and Apple.

Watch Apple's video on App Tracking Transparency feature:

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