Last Tuesday, Facebook launched a campaign formally designed to support small businesses. The largest social network has published full-page advertisements in major newspapers and created a web page urging people to speak out against Apple. The company argued that the change to its data collection policy on iOS would destroy family businesses by preventing them from using targeted ads.
But the $ 750 million PR campaign is considered selfish and bordering on hypocrisy by some Facebook employees, according to internal comments and audio tapes of the presentation, which were obtained by BuzzFeed News. A change in Apple’s mobile operating system iOS 14 requires iPhone owners to allow companies to collect their data and share it with third parties – which certainly hurts Facebook, which will gain a lot from targeted advertising. Some employees spoke about this in internal correspondence, adding that small businesses are used only as a shield.
“It feels like we’re trying to justify our bad deeds by hiding behind people and a sympathetic message,” – wrote one of the engineers of the social network in response to an internal message from the vice president of Facebook advertising Dan Levy (Dan Levy).
Incidentally, this is not the first time the two tech companies have faced each other. In 2018, Apple CEO Tim Cook criticized Facebook for tracking people online to collect data and targeted advertising, after which Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg responded. But the current campaign represents a full-blown attack, as Facebook tries to play small businesses against the $ 2.2 trillion iPhone maker.
The stakes for Facebook are high. Analysts predict the company will receive a record $ 80 billion in ad sales this year, and internal data provided to employees earlier this month shows the social network has never had so many advertisers before. Facebook had over 12.6 million monthly ad buyers in the last six months of 2020, up from 11.9 million in the first half of the year, and weekly ad revenues grew 26% to $ 2.3 billion.
Apple wants iPhone owners to approve in-app and web tracking. Naturally, not everyone will agree to this – as a result, the amount of data that Facebook collects will decrease, which will potentially lead to less effective advertising and lower revenues. The change comes at a time when Facebook is facing an unprecedented threat to its business: US state and federal regulators are threatening to split the company in a series of antitrust lawsuits.
Facebook is also dealing with public complaints from small business advertisers frustrated by the company’s failure to provide adequate customer support and stop fraudulent ads that often sell fake versions of their products.
“Since we started this campaign, we have received a response from small businesses literally around the world – they are concerned about how these changes in Apple’s policy can damage their business, – Facebook spokeswoman Ashley Zandy told BuzzFeed News. – As these are challenging times for small and medium-sized businesses, we will continue to share these stories with the public and our employees. ”
Ahead of Thursday’s internal presentation on its standoff with Apple, Facebook employees asked questions that focused on how the campaign would affect the already tarnished social media image. The most popular questions expressed skepticism or concern.
“Aren’t we worried that our stance on protecting small and medium-sized businesses will backfire as people instead perceive it like this: ‘FB, protecting her own business “?” – one of the most popular questions in internal chats sounded.
“People want privacy, – said in another. – Protests FB here will be taken with cynicism. We knew it would be bad PR and decided to publish it anyway? “
“Should I choose a message that looks less self-serving?” The third asked.
In response, Facebook’s vice president of product marketing, Graham Mudd, said the company was “very clear” in marketing materials and in calls to analysts and the press that the changes in Apple’s iOS “do have a financial impact on the social network.” (However, Facebook’s “Speak Up for Small Business” page does not mention how changes to privacy settings affect the network giant itself.)
“We are not trying to hide something, Mudd said. – We are, as you well know, a profitable big company, and we are going to go through this, adapt our products and so on. But the real hit is small businesses, and that’s why we’ve made them the center of attention. ”
In an online chat, many Facebook employees expressed their support for small business entrepreneurs who posted their stories. Ms Zandi said the business owners who spoke did not receive any payment from Facebook for their time. But the stories of small businesses have not convinced some employees – many still don’t understand how Apple’s changes will negatively affect small businesses.
One of the employees on internal forums wrote that without the consent of people, Trojans and cybercriminals collect data about them and added: “The only thing I hear over and over again is“ this is bad for business, ”and I would really like someone at the top to say bluntly:“ Better that people don’t know what we are doing, we don’t need to explain our policy to them, there is no need to give a choice, not to give the opportunity to abandon our practices – we hide all this as far as possible behind interesting functions, and then we force them to accept secret tracking “– after which he shared a meme from a British comedy show in which a Nazi officer asks: “Are we villains?”
Levy’s message attracted other domestic critics as well. One of them wrote that Apple is not going to prohibit tracking, but simply wants users to knowingly agree with it. Alternatively, for example, a paid subscription with discounts on purchases may be offered.
In response to discussions on his post, Levy said Facebook hadn’t touched on its business model. “This is Apple marketing at work, which presents us as scapegoats so that they can decide how the Internet should work, even outside of their devices. – he wrote. – I am a technology optimist because I believe technology can be a lever for democratizing access and empowerment. Including for business. And if you think this will stop because of targeted advertising … well then let me disagree. “…
Interestingly, Facebook recently came under fire from small businesses who complained about poor service and over-automation. In October, against the backdrop of the most profitable quarter, some advertisers and small businesses were faced with the disconnection of their accounts – then Facebook recognized it as automation errors, which took days or even weeks to fix. But according to Bloomberg News, the problem has recurred this month. Many are unhappy with this, and point to a discrepancy between Apple’s current message of small business defense and its own policies.
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