Facebook Admits Apple’s iOS Privacy Updates Are Working

Facebook Admits Apple’s iOS Privacy Updates Are Working
Photo: Mladen Antonov, Getty Images

The Kübler-Ross grief cycle — which you probably know better as the “Five Stages of Grief” — isn’t the type of thing you’d typically associate with a company like Facebook. Hell, it’s not what you’d associate with any company, period. The entire cycle is a deeply personal response to some deeply personal loss, and companies aren’t people, no matter how hard they insist otherwise.

So when Facebook’s VP of product marketing, Graham Mudd, put out a notice Wednesday morning about the platform’s ongoing attempts to thwart Apple’s privacy updates in iOS, the entire exchange felt shockingly… human. Facebook swapped out its usual self-righteous approach to public relations and replaced it with something that felt downright Kübler-Ross-y. For the first time ever, it felt like Facebook actually understood the gravity of Apple’s updates, and it was ready to communicate that gravity to its ad-buying public.

“We expected increased headwinds from platform changes, notably the recent iOS updates, to have a greater impact in the third quarter compared to the second quarter,” Mudd wrote, referring to the ongoing series of privacy-preserving tweaks Apple’s continued to make to its mobile operating system throughout the past year. On Monday, Apple rolled out the latest edition of this software with iOS 15, which features — among other perks — tech that’s designed to thwart in-email trackers.

Mudd’s message is simple, telling the platform’s countless advertisers that Facebook has “heard from many of you that the impact on your advertising investment has been greater than you expected.”

“The cost of achieving your business outcome may have increased and it’s also gotten harder to measure your campaigns on our platform,” he wrote. “In some cases, this is due to underreporting on our part.”

Specifically, the platform realised it had been under-reporting the so-called “conversions” — like app downloads or ad clicks — that Facebookers were taking when seeing ads in their mobile browser. According to Mudd, Facebook’s estimate is that it was underreporting these end-user actions “by approximately 15%” until now, with an untold number of “real world conversions” taken in response to Facebook ads just… evading the company’s line of sight entirely.

“We’re on this journey with you as our business also navigates and adapts to these changes,” Mudd went on, before detailing a slew of tweaks businesses can make to their own campaigns to cut down on those discrepancies. Over the coming months, the company said, Facebook would be introducing “new tools” to help these businesses adapt, and these tools would be rolled out to advertisers in “real time.”

For folks that aren’t in the wild, wacky world of Facebook advertising, the bulk of Mudd’s statement probably sounds like marketing jargon — which it 100% is. But it’s marketing jargon that past iterations of the company would have probably kept quiet outside of earnings calls with investors or private calls with high-spending brands. Facebook has a years-long track record of downplaying or outright obscuring certain ad metrics from advertisers presumably in order to keep them pouring as much money into the platform as possible, and those fibs are resulting in a mounting pile of class action cases being filed by a mounting number of businesses who are realising that they were duped.

The fact that Mudd came out and admitted that, yes, Facebook’s numbers were a little wonky over the past few months — and admitting that without needing a class-action to force his hand — feels uncharacteristically transparent, but it also feels like acceptance. It’s the kind of acceptance that only comes after all of your year-long campaign of denial, bargaining, outbursts, and moping around ultimately did jack shit to change your current state of affairs.

You don’t need to look further than the high-profile antitrust suits being lobbed against Facebook to understand that this is a company that’s not comfortable with any sort of loss. It’s pulled every smarmy and underhanded trick in the book to keep ad dollars or users from pouring into the hands of rivals, and then buying out those rivals whenever those schemes didn’t pan out. Thanks to Apple, Facebook’s now lost a ton of valuable tracking intel on iOS users, and will likely continue to lose more intel moving forward. Meanwhile, Facebook’s weird corporate grief will continue pouring out in ways that we’re only starting to comprehend.


Editor’s Note: Release dates within this article are based in the U.S., but will be updated with local Australian dates as soon as we know more.