Apple CEO Tim Cook (l) and Mark Zuckerberg, CEO and founder of Facebook.
Getty Images (L) | Reuters (R)
Earlier this week, Apple updated its App Store to show information about the types of user data that different apps collect.
The privacy label of one app is receiving a lot of attention: Facebook. In Apple’s App Store, the Facebook apps list now includes a number of pages detailing exactly what user data the app collects and what it is used for.
Facebook’s long label, which could prompt privacy-sensitive users to rethink the app, is an example of why the two Silicon Valley giants have been in a war of words for the past five years: Facebook and Apple have two different business models, and they keep coming more often in conflict.
Apple is a consumer hardware company that makes money by selling phones, computers and accessories for premium prices. In recent years, it has added privacy features to make it more difficult for other companies to collect user data, which it markets as a primary reason for choosing Apple products over competitors.
Facebook is an advertising company that makes money by collecting detailed information about users to help advertisers target and tailor their posts to audiences most likely to respond.
Some of Facebook’s complaints to Apple don’t pertain to these privacy labels – they are about other conflicts between the two companies, such as Apple’s 30% reduction in in-app purchases and upcoming changes to how apps can access device IDs for targeting ads.
But the conflict between the two companies ends up being about user targeting, as shown in this November exchange:
“Facebook executives have made it clear that their intention is to collect as much data as possible about both first and third party products in order to develop and monetize detailed profiles of their users, and this disregard for user privacy. growing and encompassing more of their products. ” Apple’s global head of privacy, Jane Horvath, said in a letter to human rights organizations.
Facebook shot back later that day in a statement saying Apple was using its power to disadvantage its competitors. “They say it’s about privacy, but about profit.”
Facebook’s app and website have controls that allow users to set their privacy settings, Facebook said, and Apple’s labels ignore the important context of how it uses data to run its services.
Facebook subsidiary WhatApp told Axios last week that Apple’s labels are anti-competitive because some of Apple’s own apps, such as Messages, are preinstalled on iPhones and don’t have store listings or similar labels. (Apple publishes how its pre-installed apps use user data on a support page on its website.)
A quick look at the privacy labels shows why privacy conscious users would hesitate to download the app.
Two sets of large icons on the download page outline the data the app collects, including ‘data used to track you’ and ‘data associated with you’ – two alarming-sounding if not terribly accurate descriptions:
The icons on the Facebook apps list indicate that the app uses contact information, identifiers and other information to “track” you or to target ads to other non-Facebook apps and websites.
Facebook also collects a variety of data related to your identity, according to the privacy label, including health and fitness data, purchases, location and contacts.
When users tap “View Details”, they get scary-looking accounts of exactly what user data Facebook collects and what it uses it for. That page discloses that Facebook uses “other financial information” and user content to target ads and collects “sensitive information” for its own analysis.
But perhaps the most memorable part of Facebook’s privacy label detail page is how long it is – on the phone, it takes up multiple screens. It leaves a very strong impression that Facebook collects a huge wealth of data on its billions of users.