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Opinion | Apple and Facebook’s Feud Reveals Americans Like Privacy

Almost all users opted out.

Clay Gendron, an analyst at Southern New Hampshire University, said the choice to opt out of tracking was an easy one for him. Apps “are asking me to opt in to being tracked so I can have better ‘curated’ ads,” he said. “It is like they are telling me I should be grateful and want them to sell my data to be a better target to advertise to. It’s just a comically terrible value proposition.”

Other app companies including Etsy and Pandora try a different approach by reminding users in mobile pop-ups that their free services are supported by targeted advertising. The Weather Network implies that tracking users helps it save lives. Twitter and Nextdoor simply want customers to have the most “relevant” ads.

But customers shouldn’t be guilted into helping people sell them stuff. Without knowing that a user spent 20 minutes browsing cooking gadgets on Sur La Table, advertisers can do a pretty good job of guessing who is most likely to want to see meal kit ads, through a type of marketing known as contextual advertising. That relies on clues they can more easily glean, such as general age, gender, location and income level.

Advertisers are willing to pay much more for ads targeted based on users’ behavior. But there’s evidence that websites don’t see much of a revenue bump from that upcharge. According to a 2019 study, sites may reap only a 4 percent reward for targeted ads after middlemen take their cut, belying app developers’ arguments that their business is reliant on tracking.

There’s the very real likelihood that marketers could use the savings from lower advertising prices on Apple devices to reach customers in more creative ways than just sticking ads on Facebook and Twitter. That might include traditional media and other apps — a potential benefit to smaller developers.

Consumers have no federal rights to privacy, leaving tech companies to put in place policies as they see fit. And critics allege Apple may be coming out with the changes to get ahead of regulatory pressure and an ongoing antitrust lawsuit over its app store. Advertising is only a small part of Apple’s business, meaning it can afford to take a cut in revenue while sticking it to competitors.

Ironically, Apple will have to act even more like a regulator itself to ensure that app developers are following the rules of its new software. Snapchat’s parent, for instance, reportedly studied ways to circumvent Apple’s rules about tracking users, as did an industry group for Chinese app developers.

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