The battle between Facebook and Apple isn't over digital advertising. It's not over small businesses finding new customers. The fight isn't even over whether apps should be able to track what you do on your iPhone and online. It's really much more simple than that. 

It's about whether you should know when apps are tracking you, and be given a choice in the matter. Apple thinks you should have a choice of whether apps will track you. Facebook, apparently, doesn't.

There is, of course, a reason Facebook feels so strongly about this. As I've written before, it knows that people are likely to opt-out of tracking, which will negatively affect a portion of its business. So the company has embarked on a full-court press to try and paint Apple as attacking small businesses and the free internet.

That all seems like a PR effort to put pressure on Apple in hopes that it will change its mind. There's a problem, however. Two, actually. First, Apple isn't changing its mind. Second, it's hard to paint someone else as the bad guy when their reputation is far better than your own.

Fortune recently released its list of the World's Most Admired Companies. Apple, for the 14th year in a row, sits at the top. Facebook isn't even on the list. Seriously--there are 332 companies listed according to their reputation, and Facebook isn't one of them.

As a result, Facebook has started to take its fight directly to its users. To be honest, this is the smartest play. Facebook literally has direct access to communicate with users via its iOS app, and that's what it should have done all along. 

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To that end, the company is now testing a pop-up that will appear before Apple's request to track notification appears. The pop-up asks users to "Allow Facebook to use your app and website activity?" It then explains the two benefits of doing so:

  • Get ads that are more personalized
  • Support businesses that rely on ads to reach customers.

There's a problem, however. Nowhere does Facebook's pop-up use the word tracking. That might seem like a small criticism, but it's actually a big deal. I'm sure that is entirely intentional on Facebook's part--it most definitely doesn't want its users thinking about the fact that it tracks them. Still, it's a big mistake, and it shows Facebook just doesn't get it.

Look, companies always try to spin things to best reflect the narrative they want to tell. The problem is that no one believes Facebook's narrative except Facebook. As a result, people simply don't trust Facebook, and this approach reinforces all of the reasons why.

I actually have some advice--not that anyone at Facebook will be interested in what I think. If you're going to build a business model on tracking people's activity and then monetizing it, own it. Talk about it with transparency and make the case for why it provides value to the user. Also, talk about what steps you're taking to protect the information you collect, something for which you don't exactly have a stellar reputation. 

Facebook should have just said:

Look, this is how we make Facebook free to use for almost 3 billion people. We track your engagement so that we can learn what is most relevant to you. Then, we show you personalized ads based on that information. That makes Facebook a better experience for you because you only get ads for things you care about, and it supports many of the local businesses that you love.

We also know that you might have concerns about what information we track, so we've created a guide with more information. You can also control it within the Facebook app under Settings.

I think the bottom line is that if people think that you're being shady about tracking them online, trying to reframe the conversation just makes you look even less trustworthy. It's far better to simply acknowledge what people already think about you and talk about it in a way that respects their concerns. That's how you earn trust. That's how you show your users that you get it.