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Facebook and iOS14

The battle for privacy

If you’ve ever used Facebook Ads, chances are that over the last few weeks you will have received a fairly bullish email from Facebook.  I received the one below:

Apple has announced changes that will adversely affect the way our ad systems work, and may affect your ability to reach people with personalised ads. These changes are expected to be introduced with an update to iOS 14 in early 2021. This disruption may significantly affect advertisers using pixel, as well as iOS 14 app developers and publishers.

To help you prepare, we’ve added a Resource Centre with updates and tasks in Ads Manager. We also recommend reviewing resources in the Facebook Business Help Centre with your marketing team. We know these changes may have a significant impact on your business, and we remain committed to providing updates and additional resources as they become available.

The email included a link through to this page on Facebook.

So, what is this all about?

A bit of background

iOS 14.5 Tracking promptSince the Cambridge Analytica scandal involving Facebook in 2018, personal privacy has been a hot topic in the technology and social spheres. There is presently a strong push towards enforcing greater respect for an individual’s desire for privacy, and several companies have been working on furthering this goal.

The first out-of-the-gate is Apple.  In iOS 14 Apple planned to add a new prompt (as shown) that would give individuals the choice whether to permit a given website or app to “track” their usage.  This tracking data links an individual; their demographics (I.e., age; sex etc.); plus their viewing, shopping and conversion actions.

Facebook majorly kicked-off about this, and a combination of discussion and litigation saw the release delayed until iOS 14.5.  This version is now scheduled for release imminently (in February 2021).

It is known that Google are also working to increase their privacy options for users of the Chrome browser, and Microsoft will follow suit with Edge (which is also built on Chromium).  Safari is also receiving the same treatment, meaning that every common browser will soon have similar options.

Ok, so what does that mean in practical terms?

As it is presently understood, the user will be asked once for a given site/app/domain whether they wish to allow tracking or not.  It is not expected that they will be re-prompted, but there will be a place in iOS/the browser that their decision can be reversed.

If the user selects to allow tracking, then everything will work as it does today.

If the user opts not to allow tracking, common “tracking pixels” such as the Facebook pixel will be prevented from triggering.

Facebook, by way of example, uses tracking pixels to track page views, lead conversion and more.  It also uses it for “re-marketing” – the helpful (if you like it)/annoying (if you don’t) feature that keeps showing a user who has taken a certain action (such as visiting a page) the same advert in many places.

If a user declines tracking stats may be askew in Facebook (I.e., you may have more conversions than are recorded), and a user cannot be re-marketed to (as it will no longer be known that they visited in the first place).

Is this a bad thing?

It depends on your stand point.

If you don’t care about being tracked and don’t mind re-targeted ads, chances are you’ll allow the tracking.  However, it is likely that many won’t.  Facebook’s concern is the default preference errs on the side of privacy, and thus the likelihood is that most people will click to decline tracking.

Now, if you’re an end-user you’re probably thinking “happy days… no more annoying ads” [Ed: I bought a garden shed last year, and I’m still being advertised garden sheds for sale.  How many sheds does one person need?!]

If you’re a business owner, and certainly if you take a “hit them… hit them again” approach to marketing, then this is of more of a concern.

Hasn't it always been possible to block tracking?

It has indeed long been possible to block tracking.  There are numerous browser plugins that do this.

The difference here is that the “plugin” is now going to be part of the base system, and the default will be to “block”.

This is the reason that Facebook Et Al. are now up-in-arms is that, not only will it affect their product, but (more importantly for them) they’ll be serving less ads – and thus making less advertising revenue.  It’s all about the greenbacks!

How do I get around this?

There are few workaround “hacks” that people are putting into place.  One includes buying a new domain name; linking that to Facebook; and using that as your primary marketing URL.

These hacks will likely work in the short term, but indication is that they are short lived.  Chatter in the development channels already indicate that the likes of Apple; Google; and others will just get even stricter and work around these “fudges” too.

Of other consideration is that this is really not a great commercial approach to brand recognition.  Multiple websites? Really?!

What is the Quoox stance on this?

This situation has been long coming. It was evident prior to 2018 that people were getting sick of their data being abused, and the Cambridge Analytica scandal was really the “nail in the coffin”.

As you might expect, this development has been a topic of much discussion amongst the Quoox team.  The argument that drove our conclusion was remarkably simple.

Quoox stores data on hundreds of thousands of people, comprising millions of confidential records.  This includes sensitive medical information; contact details; personal details (such as weight; BMI; etc.); and more.

If we do not honour and respect an individuals desire for privacy, how can they have any confidence/trust in how we handled their sensitive data?

Therefore, the Quoox position is that:

Quoox respects an individuals right to privacy, and we will not be taking any steps to circumvent their desires.

Is that it, then?

No!

Whilst Quoox (with supportive evidence) believes that the current workarounds are both technically & commercially dubious, we understand the benefits of conversion stats etc.  It won’t be of any surprise that we use Facebook ads ourselves, and this change will similarly hamper our promotional goals.

In the medium term Quoox will be implementing Facebook’s Conversion API.  This will allow us to “mimic” a Facebook pixel trigger behind the scenes, but doing so in a way that does not compromise the privacy of the user.  This will resolve the matter of page view and conversion counts being missed.  It will not, however, provide a remedy to re-marketing (which remains within the purview of the end-user).

There will be an interim period where Facebook tracking will not work on FitnessHub sites for those who select to block tracking.  This won’t prevent leads from signing up; or for any of the Quoox functions (such as reach-outs or nurturing) from working.  Similarly, it won’t prevent leads from purchasing memberships etc.  It will solely be the Facebook (and other 3rd party tracking elements) that will not work.

Going forward...

Going forward, the technology sector and industries that use it need to think more broadly.  No doubt there will be further discussions/litigation between Apple (and others) and Facebook, and perhaps new (privacy friendly) tracking concepts will be developed.

Right now, there appears to be little appetite to return to the old ways where a user’s privacy is either neglected or is blatantly for sale.

As an industry that focusses around the “well-being” of our members, the respect of their desire for privacy is something we must take seriously.

We will continue to watch this situation as it develops, and will evolve our thinking accordingly.  Our premise, however, will remain one of honouring the privacy wishes of the members for whom we are the custodians of their data.  We firmly believe that this is a stance that all responsible facility owners will both understand and mirror through their own policies.

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Chris Windram | Co-Founder

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