Matthew Crain is an assistant professor of media and communication at Miami University. He is the author of Profit Over Privacy: How Surveillance Advertising Conquered the Internet.
The debate around internet privacy is intensifying, and leading tech companies are coming into direct conflict over consumer tracking. Apple and Facebook are articulating visions for the future of mobile advertising and consumer data that seem irreconcilable, but they both ultimately reflect the concentrated power that enables a few giant corporations to make key privacy decisions for billions of internet users.
Apple’s recent release of an update of its iOS mobile operating system has sent shockwaves throughout the digital advertising sector. The big change is that apps must now get explicit permission from iPhone users before tracking their data across apps or websites owned by other companies.
No company has been more vocal in its opposition to this than Facebook. Arguing that it will undercut the revenues of content creators and app developers, the company insisted last fall that the shift against tracking “could have a meaningful negative effect on small businesses and economic recovery in 2021 and beyond.” Facebook and Instagram later implemented notices within iOS saying that their tracking of device data and “information about your activity received from other apps and websites” helps keep them “free of charge.”