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Facebook sponsored research paper lambasts Apple's iOS 14.5 privacy

Facebook will have to convince users to disable App Tracking Transparency

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An academic study backed by Facebook, calls Apple's iOS 14 App Tracking Transparency feature "pernicious," and claims it is using privacy as a guise for its anti-competitive measures.

"Harming Competition and Consumers Under the Guise of Protecting Privacy," is a new academic research paper funded by Facebook. Citing the social media company on 11 of its 22 pages, it takes the position that Apple's privacy features are "devastating" and that, "app developers, advertisers and the ads ecosystem lose."

The paper, subtitled "An Analysis of Apple's iOS 14 Policy Updates," is written by D. Daniel Sokol of the University of Florida Levin College of Law, and Feng Zhu, from the Harvard Business School.

"While thinly veiled as a privacy-protecting measure, Apple's iOS 14 policy changes harm the entire ad-supported ecosystem— from developers to advertisers to end consumers," they write in the full paper. "By sharply limiting the ability of third-party apps to create value through personalized advertising, Apple's policy changes undermine competition."

As of iOS 14.5, app developers are required to ask users if they want to allow ads to track them. This App Tracking Transparency has previously seen Facebook reportedly wanting to "cause pain" to Apple, and many worldwide marketing firms have strong objections too.

The writers of this paper describe how Apple's messaging allegedly uses "stark, biased, and misleading terms," which "diminish consumers' abilities to make meaningful and informed choices about data use."

It does not address the issue that prior to App Tracking Transparency, users were not typically informed of an app's data use. It also does not mention that Facebook was never clear on what it did with users' data, prior to Apple's moves.

"Without convincing explanations of how its policy changes represent the least competition-restrictive means of enhancing consumer privacy and why those changes do not apply to Apple's own apps and services," say the authors, "Apple may have a hard time justifying its exclusionary conduct."

Rather than an academic study of an issue, the paper reads as a position statement. It is critical of Apple for not having "convincing explanations," for example, but the authors seemingly did not ask Apple for any.

It does briefly attempt to put App Tracking Transparency in a wider context of what else is happening with privacy in the industry. However, it chiefly does so in a damning criticism of Europe's General Data Protection Regulations.

The authors state that the EU's GDPR regulatory measures, meant to reduce spam sent to the public, have "had a negative effect on venture capital investment." It connects this to Apple's ATT by stating that any system that requires users to choose to opt-in to advertising could "chill innovation and reduce welfare to consumers."

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