Facebook bought full-page print ads to hide its greed behind small businesses

Apple's new ad tracking policies will hurt Facebook's profits. Facebook is using small businesses as a scapegoat to fight it.

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Today it’s been revealed that Facebook purchased a series of full-page newspaper advertisements directed at Apple — a direct attack on the iPhone maker's new ad tracking policies. Facebook’s new ads reiterate CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s claims that Apple’s tracking policies will hurt small businesses most.

In the ad, Facebook says its data shows the average small business advertiser “will lose sales of over 60 percent for every dollar they spend.” It’s slated to run in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and The Washington Post, according to reporting from Bloomberg.

Facebook has been hating on Apple’s latest ad tracking policy updates since late October. The company’s messaging around this campaign has been consistent: this will hurt small businesses the most.

But it’s difficult to read this extended campaign (which has undoubtedly cost Facebook millions of dollars) as anything other than a direct push for Facebook’s owned vested interest in the changes.

(You can read the full ad below.)

This isn’t about small businesses — Facebook is not entirely wrong with its assertions. Apple’s updated tracking policies, which have been delayed until some time next year, will affect small businesses. Users will be given the option of refusing ad tracking on an app-by-app basis — a change that will affect any business that utilizes personalized ads.

Here’s the thing: Facebook will also lose profits because of the change. Facebook’s ad empire is worth upwards of $70 billion at last count, and many of those ads rely on user-tracking. But Facebook makes no mention of its own interest in this cause. Today’s ad, as well as the campaign’s dedicated website, speak only about small businesses.

It’s clear that Facebook is pushing back at Apple in a public way because its profit margins will be hurt by the new ad tracking policies. But rather than saying that, it’s chosen to make small businesses do the talking.

A larger conversation about tracking — The new ad tracking policies are part of Apple’s broader push for privacy transparency in iOS 14. That includes a slew of updated data-sharing labels on the App Store.

Facebook’s hatred of the new policies — and, to be fair, pushback from small businesses, too — come as part of a much larger reckoning the tech industry is having right now. Big Tech has built entire kingdoms around tracking consumers. The full extent of that tracking is only now coming to light, and consumers are understandably uncomfortable with it.

Apple is attempting to make the jump to a future where users fully consent to being tracked. That step will affect the enormous market built around personalized ads, potentially even forcing it to collapse in on itself. Apple isn’t doing this out of spite: it’s a move focused on consumer privacy. But because those policies will hurt its profits, Facebook has chosen to create an entire campaign to fight them.

Facebook claims to stand up for small businesses. As always, it’s really fighting with its own interests as the priority. And what the consumer wants? Facebook doesn’t care about that.

Of course, Apple isn’t free and clear in this discussion, either; it’s apparently chosen to give its own ad tracking a separate toggle, exempting itself from the main switch.

The full ad reads (h/t @DaveStangis on Twitter):

“At Facebook, small business is at the core of our business. More than 10 million businesses use our advertising tools each month to find new customers, hire employees and engage with their communities.
Many in the small business community have shared concerns about Apple’s forced software update, which will limit businesses’ ability to run personalized ads and reach their customers effectively.
Fifty-four percent of small to medium businesses started or increased their usage of personalized ads on social media during the pandemic, according to a new Deloitte study. Without personalized ads, Facebook data shows that the average small business advertiser stands to see a cut of over 60% in their sales for every dollar they spend.
While limiting how personalized ads can be used does impact larger companies like us, these changes will be devastating to small businesses, adding to the many challenges they face right now.
Small businesses deserve to be heard. We hear your concerns, and we stand with you.
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