Facebook and Instagram Add Notices Warning That App Tracking Helps Keep Services Free

Both Facebook and Instagram have started showing pop-ups to iOS users with an aim to sell them the idea of app tracking.

Ashkan Soltani

Facebook is no fan of Apple’s iOS 14 privacy updates, which ask users for their permission before allowing tracking within individual apps. In response, the social network has started suggesting that without tracking, Facebook and Instagram wouldn’t be free services.

According to The Verge, the references to a “free of charge” service were first spotted by technology researcher Arshkan Soltani, who tweeted images of Facebook and Instagram iOS 14.5 information pop-ups (Facebook calls them “educational screens”), which you can see below. In both examples, Facebook suggests that by allowing the company permission to track their data, users are helping to keep the services “free of charge.”

“This version of iOS requires us to ask for permission to track some data from this devices to improve your ads. Learn how we limit the use of this information if you don’t turn on this device setting,” the screen reads. “We use information about your activity received form other apps and websites to: show you ads that are more personalized, help keep Facebook free of charge [and] support businesses that rely on ads to reach their customers.”

The company detailed the notices in an updated blog post in late April, but the “educational screens,” as Facebook described them, didn’t get much attention until now.

It’s not surprising that Facebook would try the hard sell for app tracking. Personalized ads play a major role in Facebook’s business, and using iOS 14.5 to effectively disable them could hurt the internet giant’s bottom line. The notices could be worthwhile for the company if they lead to at least some customers sticking with app tracking. At the same time, they’re reminders that Facebook’s business revolves around data collection — you might balk if you’re privacy-conscious.

It’s also notable that Apple’s App Store rules forbid apps from offering incentives for users to allow themselves to be tracked. It isn’t immediately clear whether Facebook and Instagram are breaking that rule in this case.