The Big Tech Tracker: Facebook Battles Apple

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The “big four” tech companies aren’t exactly playing nice with each other this week – and some of the issues they’re contesting will affect retailers. It’s not Amazon and Google we’re talking about first. It’s Facebook and Apple, as they square off on planned changes for iOS 14, which will be the iPhones operating system set for release this fall.

The issue gets fairly deep into the weeds about how operating systems and Facebook advertising work together – or, in this case, may not work together. With the amount of advertising that retailers do on Facebook, and the burgeoning world of mobile advertising in the balance, the outcome of the spat will be important for many stakeholders.

Here are the basics. When it was announced in June, iOS 14 came with an opt-in clause and opt-out option for users. According to Apple Insider, inside the iOS 14 privacy settings, users can indicate whether they want apps to ask permission to track them across other apps and websites – something that Facebook uses as the basis for much of its advertising technology.

Currently, if a user is posting on Facebook about plans for a summer vacation, a whole host of companies will see that information through what’s known as an IDFA (identifier for advertisers). It’s technically anonymous, but has enough information to serve up a relevant ad. For example, in the current iOS scheme, if the user posts about a driving trip from Boston to Washington, DC, a DC restaurant that is in the Facebook ecosystem could serve an ad to that user. With iOS 14, the user can choose to stop that from happening. What’s more, even if the feature is shut off, apps must get opt-in consent before they can track users.

Facebook is not happy. In fact, it says its ad revenue could take a 50 percent hit on Apple devices.

“We expect these changes will disproportionately affect Audience Network, given its heavy dependence on app advertising,” noted a post on the Facebook advertising blog on Wednesday (Aug. 26). “Like all ad networks on iOS 14, advertiser ability to accurately target and measure their campaigns on Audience Network will be impacted, and as a result, publishers should expect their ability to effectively monetize on Audience Network to decrease. Ultimately, despite our best efforts, Apple’s updates may render Audience Network so ineffective on iOS 14 that it may not make sense to offer it on iOS 14. We expect less impact to our own advertising business, and we’re committed to supporting advertisers and publishers through these updates.”

Facebook has made some changes. First, it will not collect IDFA data on iOS 14, at least until “Apple offers more guidance.” It will also remind users that it also has an “off-Facebook activity” feature, although it does not require an opt-in. For retailers, the biggest change might be the release of an updated SDK (software development kit) that will limit the data available for running and measuring campaigns.

“In light of these limitations, and in an effort to mitigate the impact on the efficacy of app install campaign measurement, we will also ask businesses to create a new ad account dedicated to running app install ad campaigns for iOS 14 users,” noted the advertising blog.

Expect more developments as the iOS 14 release date (still unknown) approaches.

And on to California…

Facebook also has beef with the state of California, which has one of the country’s strictest consumer privacy laws. This fight, too, revolves around the ability to collect user information and advertise against it. The California law (the California Consumer Protection Act, or CCPA) is complex and restrictive. On a very basic level, it gives users the ability to see the information that is collected about them and then opt-out from allowing companies to sell that data. The problem goes back to the amount of data Facebook collects on behalf of its advertisers, and it also involves the right of consumers to opt-out.

Faecbook Chief Financial Officer David Wehner addressed the law on the company’s most recent earnings call. “You know, in the near term, that’s really around implementing CCPA. And in the longer term, it’s more potential for further similar regulation across the globe,” Wehner said. “We’re seeing an impact to the business from CCPA today. We don’t know what the impact will be. How things play out will depend on advertiser implementation, [and] adoption rates in terms of opting out of tracking. So there’s a lot of uncertainty as to how it plays out.”

The law went into effect on July 1. The big problem is that the law not only applies to Facebook, but also to every business that uses any kind of data from California residents. Just before the law went into effect, Facebook announced a new feature called Limited Data Use, which businesses can use to limit the data they send to Facebook.

“When a business applies this feature, it will direct Facebook to process information about people in California as the business’ service provider,” explained the Facebook for Business blog. “That means we will limit how this information is processed as specified in our State-Specific Terms. When Limited Data Use is enabled, businesses may notice an impact to campaign performance and effectiveness, and retargeting and measurement capabilities will be limited.”

One month into Limited Data Use, Facebook is expected to provide an update on its effectiveness, or potentially recommend changes.

Google Simplifies Listings

The third techy item of the week came from Google, and this one is positive for retailers. It’s a bit “inside baseball,” so buckle up.

For the last year, Google has been making changes to its Merchant Center to make life and listings easier for retailers. For example, earlier this year, Google launched a new way for shoppers to find clothes, shoes and other retail products on Search in the U.S. The company also recently announced that free retail listings are coming to product knowledge panels on Google Search, in an effort to simplify the process and technology involved in creating them.

Google is essentially giving retailers more control over their information in search results through utilizing meta tags and an HTML attribute. Retailers will also be able to customize product display content in search results.

“Many retailers already use markup or Google Merchant Center to make certain specifications in their product’s display in Google Search results, but there are chances [for] Google to start displaying other on-page content that it may find through regular crawling through the Robots.txt files,” said Digital Information World of the changes. “That is why robot meta tags are useful, as they give some interesting controls and customization options to the retailers about how their products appear in the search results and how much product data and information can be controlled from displaying.”

The way Google describes it on the Merchant Center is by visualizing a mobile screen. In one iteration, the new technology allows retailers to submit a simple text listing. In another, the listing is accompanied by an image.

“These are some pretty interesting controls that can let the retailers practically do whatever they can with their products’ search snippets on Google search,” said DIW. However, the important thing to note is that these attributes or robots meta tags will not apply if the retailer has already used the markup by or product data submitted through Google Merchant Center.”

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