Apple has never been against advertising – it’s against invasive data collection
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There’s the perception that Apple as a company has a tough stance against advertising, and complaints have arisen that its ad companies are hypocritical. However, the truth is more complicated than that.
The Cupertino tech giant has faced companies like Facebook in the past over invasive advertising platforms. At the same time, Apple developed its own small advertising business.
These two objectives are not in contradiction with each other. More than that, Apple’s own advertising efforts are not a signal that the company is going to become more like Meta or Google in the future.
Apple isn’t against ads – it’s for privacy
It’s easy to see Apple as a company that’s adamantly opposed to modern advertising, as evidenced by its apparent campaigns against major corporate revenue drivers like Facebook.
However, this is not at all the truth. Apple is not against advertising. Instead, it launched features aimed at preventing a very specific type of advertising model: ads based on invasive data collection. This is the kind of revenue model that Meta, formerly known as Facebook, was built on.
Apple’s app tracking transparency — which Facebook has campaigned heavily against — allows customers to ask apps not to track them on other websites and services. It doesn’t block data collection outright, it just puts the power back in the hands of consumers.
This is objectively a good thing for online privacy. Even if a user has no problem handing over mountains of data to Meta, Google, or another company, there are reasons to be wary of invasive advertising.
Meta’s own history with storing and collecting data is fragile. The company has been hit for sharing data without user consent.
Facebook also violated laws related to obtaining users’ permission before harvesting certain types of data, such as biometric information.
Apple’s own advertising company
Apple is slowly building its own advertising business while increasing user privacy. It is important to remember that these two objectives are not opposed.
The iPhone maker has been in the advertising business for a long time, even if its own offerings are small. You might think Apple advertising is an agenda run from the mind of Tim Cook, but you’d be wrong. Steve Jobs himself launched the iAd platform in 2010 with the stated objective of capturing 50% of the mobile advertising market.
This attempt largely failed, and Apple’s current ad placement business is still in its infancy. But it’s growing.
At first glance, Apple may seem hypocritical for cutting Meta’s ad business while expanding its own. However, Apple’s advertising business is built differently.
Apple does not track users or use highly targeted advertising measures. This means that the advertisements shown to you in the App Store are not based on sensitive information such as your religion, policies or health data. There is also no complete profile of you on Apple’s platforms.
While this advertising strategy may seem good for consumers and bad for businesses wanting to advertise, Apple has released data suggesting that privacy-preserving ad technology performs the same as highly targeted ads.
So, again, Apple is not against advertising. It just prefers user privacy while hosting advertisements.
As a massive tech company, Apple understands the advertising industry from both first- and third-party perspectives. Apple places ads from other companies on its platforms, but it also runs its own advertising campaigns.
Apple’s own commercials have been exceptionally well executed, from its famous iPod commercials to more recent award-winning commercials. Over the years, Apple’s advertisements have changed in tone to focus more on hardware. However, they have always been consistent.
There are also, of course, the “Privacy. It’s the iPhone” ads. You might see an ad for a product intended to reduce targeted advertising as an oxymoron, but it shows that Apple isn’t against advertising — it’s only against highly targeted ads based on invasive data collection.
The thing is, Apple understands advertising from the advertiser’s perspective. It’s a for-profit company that wants to sell products, so Apple isn’t and never will be against advertising.
Apple made some missteps in its first-party advertising, of course. Earlier in 2022, for example, it appeared to experiment with first-party ad placement for its original podcasts in Apple Music — a platform clearly touted as ad-free.
However, no company will be perfect. This is especially true given the scope and breadth of products and services manufactured by Apple. The point is that while it’s a trillion-dollar tech giant, it hasn’t (maybe not yet) succumbed to the temptation to harvest and sell trucks. data about its users to whoever will pay for it.
Privacy should be a choice
Companies like Meta will say its products are democratic and free because of their extensive data collection practices, and that Apple’s own products are only “for the rich.” Despite the obvious fallacy of this last statement, which is meant more to generate an emotional response than to be a real argument, there is more to it.
It’s true that harvesting mountains of user data and then using that data to target advertising is lucrative. It is also true that this revenue model allows for subsidized use of social media platforms and services.
However, a balance must be found. Making your platform accessible to a wide range of people is an admirable goal, but it should not – and must not – come at the expense of the fundamental human right to privacy.
This is especially true since access to mountains of consumer data can be dangerous. Highly targeted ads and well-tuned algorithms can fuel a host of problems, including the spread of misinformation and hate speech.
Apple has understood this for a long time. Its pro-privacy stance – rare among tech giants – dates back to the era of Steve Jobs.
Apple’s advertising model isn’t perfect, but it’s closer to balancing advertisers’ needs and consumer rights than most. And if consumers want better, they need to vote loud and clear with their voice and their money.