“Completely Running Blind.” Apple’s Power Move To Kneecap Facebook Advertising Is Working.

Facebook can survive its scandals, but Apple’s anti-tracking initiative is doing meaningful damage to its business.

Big Technology is a weekly newsletter dedicated to covering the tech world with honest, nuanced reporting. Join the 10,000+ subscribers who tune into Big Technology for tech news without the spin. Here’s an easy way to subscribe:

Facebook this week dispatched its high-level executives to ask customers to hang in there. They weren’t, of course, visiting to discuss the Wall Street Journal’s recent exposé of the company’s unsavory practices. But instead, Facebook VPs, including Simon Whitcombe and Graham Mudd, spoke to advertisers about Apple’s anti-tracking initiative, the one thing wreaking immediate harm on the company’s ad effectiveness and its bottom line.

“This is where, when something actually affects their business, they get their shit together and they move,” said one Facebook advertiser who attended the meetings.

“It's been all hands on deck for many weeks,” said Mudd in an interview.

Apple is indeed doing more damage to Facebook than any of its rolling series of scandals so far. The changes Apple made in iOS 14.5 — asking people if they wanted to opt-out of apps tracking them across the web — is causing tumult for advertisers who rely on Facebook to sustain their businesses. Performance marketers, i.e., those who want you to buy immediately after clicking, are particularly struggling. The masses, they believe, have opted out of letting Facebook track off of Facebook, so they can’t be sure if people are buying their products after seeing their ads. Facebook expects them to spend less money as a result. 

“Just completely running blind” is how Aaron Paul, a performance Facebook marketer, described it. Paul said his company, Carousel, moved from spending millions of dollars each day on Facebook to a few hundred thousand dollars. Before the iOS changes, Facebook generated 80% of the traffic Carousel sent to its product pages. Now it accounts for 20%. 

Apple’s iOS changes may lead to irreparable harm to Facebook’s ad business. This moment has demonstrated to Paul and his fellow performance buyers that relying on one channel (albeit a very effective one) is risky. So they’re looking to diversify their ad spend. Paul said he’s moved his ad budget elsewhere, including “Snapchat and TikTok, but also silent killers like email.” On Twitter, Facebook marketers discussing Apple’s changes almost unanimously agreed they needed to follow suit. 

Concern over Facebook’s ability to weather Apple’s attack is already translating to quick consequences in the stock market. The company’s stock dropped nearly 4% on Wednesday, and some faithful investors are bailing. “I probably, over the last two days, have sold almost half that position,” said trader Jon Najarian on CNBC Wednesday. Facebook, he added, was once his second-largest holding.

People are opting out of Facebook’s tracking for a reason: they no longer trust the company with their data after years of evidence they should not. But the context of Apple’s power move is important too. The company competes with Facebook’s messaging apps, and it’s working hard to build a robust ad platform of its own.

“I don't think that Tim Cook is this benevolent privacy person,” said Kelcey Lehrich, CEO of 365 Holdings, a company that owns e-commerce brands and advertises extensively online. “They're making strategic decisions that affect the market cap, not practical decisions that serve their customers or serve their users,” he said, speaking broadly of the Big Tech companies. Apple did not respond to a request for comment.

“I think we shared our views on iOS 14 and, at this point, I don't have anything more to add,” said Facebook’s Mudd, expressing his company’s anger about as diplomatically as possible. 

Apple’s power play is already making these marketers seek alternatives to Facebook, more than any scandal. And unfortunately for Facebook, it just so happens that Apple is one of the alternatives.

“Apple is super powerful, and they're doing all of this to build their own ad platform,” said Paul, the Facebook performance marketer. “My goal is to make our team learn the ad platform when it comes and be good at that. See if that works.”


Meet Big Technology’s Headline Sponsor: Transcend

With enactment of GDPR and other privacy laws, companies have quickly implemented consent managers on their websites in order to meet the requirement of asking users for consent prior to tracking. Sound familiar? These superficial solutions often slow or break your site, require extensive work to integrate with your existing ad tech or widgets, and only address a portion of all tracking tech on your site – leaving tedious workarounds for your engineers, compliance risk for your legal team and a headache all around.

Meet Transcend’s Consent Manager - which enables your website to support seamless compatibility with your ad networks and 3rd party widgets. It also includes no code compliance with popular privacy signals. As a Big Technology reader, your site can get first access to Consent Manager. Try it now, click here.

Get Your 2 Week Free Trial Now

News Briefs

In Amazon’s Flagship Fulfillment Center, the Machines Run the Show (Bloomberg)

Amazon is steadily marching toward fully automating its Fulfillment Centers, i.e. the massive warehouses that can process 1 million items in a single day. For the moment, however, the company is operating a hybrid workplace, where hundreds of thousands of humans put their faith in robots and software to handle everything from determining staffing needs to moving the products. The push toward automation is far from smooth (just ask the employee and managers going through it) but it’s where all of retail is eventually heading.

Curated with our Sponsor: Important, Not Important

Is Biden’s 40% solar blueprint achievable? (E&E News, via Important, Not Important #247)

There are more than 200 medical and health journals worldwide that declare the “greatest threat to global public health” is a 1.5° C rise in temperatures. The Biden administration is trying to reverse our warming trend with an ambitious plan to rely on alternative energies, especially solar. The plan will require more than the federal government though, relying on state, local, and trade support. But there's a ton of momentum in the push toward solar, wind, and battery energy — and the first thing you need is a plan.

To stay up to date on matters of AI, science, and environmental news (and to have it curated and decoded) subscribe to Important, Not Important.  You can check it out here.

Further Reading

Twitter to Pay $809.5 Million to Settle Lawsuit Alleging Jack Dorsey, Others Misled Investors (Variety)

Facebook Chief Technology Officer Mike Schroepfer to Step Down (Bloomberg)

Tim Cook says employees who leak memos do not belong at Apple, according to leaked memo (The Verge)

How Yahoo is experimenting with platforms and partnerships to grow its audience (Digiday Podcast)

New Google documents show the behind-the-scenes battle between one of the most powerful execs and a fired right-wing agitator who coworkers dubbed a 'shitheel' (Business Insider)

Employers say 'ghosting coasting' is a growing problem, but workers have their reasons for quietly walking away from a job (Business Insider)

Workers say employers have been guilty of ghosting them for years (Business Insider)

Join Unfinished Live In New York This Week (Sponsored)

I’ll be recording a live episode of Big Technology Podcast at Unfinished Live this week, a festival convening technologists, journalists, artists, and changemakers for thought-provoking conversations about building an equitable, sustainable future. The festival runs today and tomorrow in New York City. Stop by tomorrow to catch my recording with Charlie Warzel at 12:45 p.m. eastern.

Want to be in the audience? Get your free ticket by going to live.unfinished.com and using the promo code BIGTECH

Free Ticket

Advertise with Big Technology?

Advertising on Big Technology makes everything you do easier. You’ll get in front of the tech world’s key decision-makers, helping you build brand awareness as you look to grow and tell your story. This newsletter has placements available in November and December, including some new ad formats. Email me at alex.kantrowitz@gmail.com to learn more. 

This week on Big Technology Podcast: Unraveling The Mystery Of Peter Thiel — With Max Chafkin

Max Chafkin is the author of The Contrarian: Peter Thiel and Silicon Valley's Pursuit of Power, which debuts this week. The book is a fascinating, inside look into the life and rise of Silicon Valley’s most powerful and controversial venture capitalist. In this interview, we discuss whether Thiel is representative of Silicon Valley or an anomaly, and dig into who he really is and what motivates him.

You can listen on Apple, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts.

Thanks again for reading, and see you next Thursday!