San Francisco (AFP)

The personal data of consumers, the black gold of the digital economy, are once again at the heart of tensions between Facebook and Apple, the social media giant accusing that of high-tech electronics of losing revenue to SMEs that publish applications.

Facebook reported on Wednesday that an update from Apple will limit its ability and those of third-party app developers to target iPhone users with ads.

The Californian group says in a statement that the impact for publishers and developers is "difficult to quantify", but says it has measured in simulations "more than 50% loss of revenue when the personalization of mobile advertising campaigns is removed ".

"In reality, the impact could be much greater" for the partners concerned, adds the platform.

Apple's latest operating system update (iOS) for its smartphones, tablets and Apple TV was released this week, in developer test mode.

Under iOS 14, "you will have to ask users for their permission to follow them on applications and websites owned by other companies," Apple had warned.

The tracking of users, thanks to their unique advertising identifier on mobiles, makes it possible to collect and share data on them, in order to target them with personalized advertising.

- Question of survival -

This is one of the essential aspects of Facebook's economic model, whose algorithms do this work of collecting and processing data in anonymized profiles.

The group's platforms sell ultra-targeted advertising space on a very large scale to advertisers. They also provide tools that allow these profiles to be tracked and monetized when they leave Facebook and go to another application.

Third-party apps then sell advertising space, which is just as targeted, and therefore much more lucrative than generic, non-personalized ads.

"iOS 14 will hurt many developers and publishers in an already difficult time for businesses," argues Facebook. "We work with more than 19,000 of them around the world and paid them billions of dollars in 2019. Many of these SMEs depend on advertising to survive."

Facebook, which also owns Instagram, Messenger and WhatsApp among others, is therefore considering no longer offering its tracking, targeting and monetization tools to third-party applications on iOS 14.

They will continue to run on Android, Google's operating system.

The three neighbors of Silicon Valley regularly clash over the subject of data.

Apple, which is among the world's top three smartphone makers, has in the past been critical of the business models of Facebook and Google (including YouTube), which largely dominate the global advertising market.

- Strategic privacy -

The Apple brand argues that tracking can be intrusive for users and intends to give them more control over their personal data.

A trend encouraged by the European and Californian authorities in particular, which brought into force the European regulation on data protection (RGPD) in 2018 and the "California Consumer Privacy Act" (CCPA) in 2020.

In both cases, it is about guaranteeing citizens certain rights over their data - how it is collected and used, for commercial purposes or not.

"This is a strategic choice on Apple's part. They promote respect for privacy, gain the good graces of governments and consumers and differentiate themselves from other companies which cannot do the same because of their dependence on the advertising market, "comments Neil Sweeney, founder and boss of Killi, a platform that allows subscribers to control and monetize their digital data.

"Remember that Apple gets 30% of all app subscriptions (downloaded from the App Store). So if they can improve the quality of the apps on offer and promote transactions, they're a winner in every way," he adds for AFP.

Social networks, for their part, believe that advertising makes it possible to provide "free" services, and that users prefer personalized advertisements according to their tastes.

© 2020 AFP