Marketing 8 min read

Forward-thinking Apple Attacks Facebook's Web-tracking Empire

We might not see this too often. | Alexey Boldin |

We might not see this too often. | Alexey Boldin |

Earlier this month, Apple indicated that they would no longer support Facebook and the company’s web-tracking practices via the Safari browser. They also disallowed Facebook and Twitter authentication on the newest Apple OS, Mojave.

At this point, it’s not hard to see Mark Zuckerberg and his company struggling through 2018. Considering all the issues involving news feed changes, third-party entities, and the breach of data privacy that the company has been facing since the first quarter of the year, it’s no surprise that users are leaving the platform.

In fact, teenagers, which Facebook prizes as they give social media platforms the “cool factor”, are reportedly leaving the social media network in droves for competitors like Youtube and Snapchat.

A new study released earlier this month by Pew Research Center revealed only half of U.S. teens ages 13 to 17 are using Facebook. That puts the Zuckerberg-owned company three places behind Youtube, which has 85 percent of U.S. teens hooked to it.

Problems Leading to Regulation and More Data Privacy Concerns

If user engagement seemed to be the biggest self-proclaimed challenge for Facebook before the Cambridge Analytica scandal, there’s now a long-standing data privacy concern that the company is dealing with on multiple fronts.

Aside from users that are leaving, Zuckerberg and his company are now on the receiving end of complaints and class action lawsuits filed against it for its loose handling of user data and information manipulation.

Not only that, other tech giants appear to be unhappy with the negative image Silicon Valley gained because of the scandals surrounding Facebook. Silicon Valley likes recognition for revolutionary technology rather new types of human rights abuses. However, Facebook’s recent woes injected skepticism into even the most carefree internet user.

Jan Koum, co-founder of WhatsApp, left the company last March right after the Cambridge Analytica scandal made headlines. Apple’s co-founder Steve Wozniak has also been vocal about his disapproval of Facebook’s data handling practices.

Whether high-profile scandal or not, Facebook has always leveraged user data to drive ad dollar growth. Often, it has done this by leveraging personal data to develop consumer profiles. With this, advertisers can pay Facebook to put their products and services in front of the people most likely to purchase them.

But, this marketing tactic is starting to be cast in a negative light. Apple’s recent moves are a key example of how.

Apple is Snubbing Facebook

Tim Cook, Apple’s current CEO, made it clear that it won’t tolerate Facebook’s tracking practices in its browser. The company released an update to its Safari browser, called intelligent tracking prevention, that lets users limit sites’ ability to track their activities.

So, what can this new tool do?

Primarily, the intelligent tracking prevention tool will protect the privacy of Safari users by shutting down the capability of social media networks like Facebook from tracking them on the web. That includes blocking the Like and Share button features that are rumored to be used by the company in monitoring their users.

“Generally for me, I’m not a big fan of regulation. I think self-regulation is best. But when it’s not working, you have to ask yourself what form of regulation might be good,” Cook told CNN.

“And I think most people are not aware of who is tracking them, how much they’re being tracked, and the large amounts of detailed data that are out there about them, nor about the companies that possess the data.

We’re focused on the practice of tracking people when they don’t know they’re being tracked. So what we believe is one of the most offensive things is when you are on another website but this website that you were on three or four times earlier is still tracking what you’re doing. We don’t think that’s reasonable for people,” he added.

How big of an impact can this have? For one, Safari accounts for almost 30% of all web traffic. With this big of an untrackable chunk of the Internet, Facebook will feel the effect.

For us specifically, what do these privacy and data manipulation issues mean in the world of content marketing?

Organic Content vs. Facebook’s Data Manipulation Scheme

The Cambridge Analytica scandal was an eye opener for many of us. Not only did it further expose the hidden world of data manipulation, but it also showed us how companies are exploiting and using our information for their own personal gains.

In the case of Cambridge Analytica, the firm reportedly used the information they bought from a third-party entity authorized by Facebook to harvest data from its users to influence voters in the last U.S. Presidential election.

Apparently, data mining companies use our personal opinions to feed us targeted, sometimes “fake” news and advertisements that support their own campaigns. But, if you think this illegal data harvesting and mishandling is only limited to political agendas, you’re wrong.

As we’ve said, user data gathered by marketing and data analytics firms are used to make product suggestions that benefit the interest of their clients. At first, this practice appears to be a technological advancement that makes our lives easier. After all, how much different is it than a billboard advertising oil changes on the side of the freeway?

Internet traffic is just a little more specific. In fact, the ads and products you see are most likely targeting specifically to you. This is usually based on what sites you’ve visited, what you’ve bought in the past, and where you spent the most time browsing.

In our current marketing atmosphere, chances are your desire for a certain product is reflected in the things you’ve already searched for on the Internet. Marketers with access to your browsing data can put that product in your face preemptively.

This is indeed convenient for you and for marketers who can aggressively calculate and improve ROI by leveraging user data.

However, this convenience for the marketers thrives by manipulating users with their own “private” data. In many cases, data is harvested without user consent.

This year, that attitude began changing. Again, Facebook is a prime example. A January 2018 Facebook news feed algorithm update promised to promote “meaningful conversation” between users. Initially, we thought Facebook was taking a forward-thinking approach to the reality of Internet marketing. Yet, from where we sit now, it seems much more likely that Facebook was trying to mitigate the then-oncoming scrutiny it received throughout this year.

If you are a content marketer, you understand the difference between “organic” and “paid” traffic initiatives. Web tracking has always been utilized in both instances, but web tracking’s relationship with “paid” ads and traffic is decidedly more negative.

Internet marketers should know that the most responsible online marketing tactic has always been to create a useful product, resource, or service, and to allow consumers to find it on their own. Yet, there was never much incentive to do exclusively “organic” marketing. After all, the Internet is a digital network. Every communication is tracked, so why not take advantage?

Simply put, this strategy is now more exploitative than it is helpful. Going forward, exploiting user data to influence what a user sees just isn’t going to cut it.

For our part here at Edgy Labs, we value our clients’ privacy. Our primary goal has always been to produce honest content that brings value to people–whether it’s an article about content marketing advice, NASA’s latest plans, or the growth of the IoT.

In this day and age where technological advancement has made it convenient for people and companies to leverage personal data, the only way to create real value that is appreciated by users is to respect user privacy and user data. People are smart. If your product is useful, people will seek it out.

Respecting your client’s right to privacy and using high-quality, honest content will not only add value to your organization, but to the digital community at large. To support that idea, here are some final words from our resident content marketing expert and Chief Technology Officer, Alexander de Ridder:

“The bigger story here is the trend, right? For our privacy, that’s [Apple’s blocking of web tracking] really, really cool. But, if you’re a client of ours . . . you’ve gotten used to this hyper-focused individualized tracking . . . It’s addicting.

This is a trend that can spell the end of an era — for this hyper-personalized advertising. We can say that we are doing marketing in a way that does not violate anyone’s privacy.

People only find our content if they are looking for it . . . and everything we’re trying to do content-wise is always trying to give value to people. When you’re asking me for something, we’re trying to give you the most valuable information. And so, I think . . . we’re on that side of the debate.”

Where do you fall in this debate? Should content marketers be able to leverage user data to manipulate visible ads and content? Or, should marketers create resources that attract clients based on merit?

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Chelle Fuertes

Chelle is the Product Management Lead at INK. She's an experienced SEO professional as well as UX researcher and designer. She enjoys traveling and spending time anywhere near the sea with her family and friends.

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