Amid a flood of public Facebook attacks on Apple over privacy measures, Facebook employees expressed their dissatisfaction with the direction of the campaign in comments obtained by BuzzFeed News.
Last week, Facebook launched a campaign in print newspapers explaining that it was “facing Apple for small businesses everywhere” and created a website encouraging people to “speak for small businesses”.
Facebook argues that Apple’s privacy changes in iOS 14, which give users the option to cancel ad tracking, will hurt small businesses that see increased sales of personalized ads. However, some Facebook employees are complaining about what they consider a self-service campaign.
BuzzFeed News obtained internal comments from one of Facebook’s private forums and audio of a presentation to Facebook employees, revealing that there is discontent among employees about the angle used to attack Apple’s privacy changes. A Facebook engineer, in response to an internal post about Facebook advertising chief Dan Levy’s campaign, said:
We seem to be trying to justify doing a bad thing, hiding behind people with a nice message.
Before an internal meeting to explain the reason for the campaign against Apple, Facebook employees asked and voted several questions that focused on the consequences of the campaign on Facebook’s public image. The most popular questions asked allegedly expressed skepticism or concern:
We are not concerned that our protective stance [small- and medium-sized businesses] Will the shot backfire, since people see it as “Facebook protecting your own business”?
People want “privacy”, but Facebook’s objection here will be viewed with cynicism. Did we know this would be bad public relations and did we decide to publish anyway?
How do we choose a message that seems less selfish?
In response, Facebook’s vice president of product marketing, Graham Mudd, said the company made it “very clear” that Apple’s changes “have a financial impact on us” in addition to small businesses:
We are not trying to sweep it under the rug. We are, you know, a big profitable company and we are going to overcome that and adapt our products and so on. But the real people who will be hit by that are small businesses, which is why we make them the focus of the message.
After the presentation, many Facebook employees apparently were not convinced. Some did not understand how Apple’s changes would negatively affect small businesses, while one pointed out that Apple’s privacy changes also prevent “malicious agents” from tracking people:
We will not … be the only ones who should be allowed to track people without their consent – any company can do this, even smaller startups and malicious agents.
The same official launched a blunt attack on Levy’s post, accompanied by a popular meme with the text “Are we the villains?”
The only thing I’m hearing over and over is “this is bad for business”, and I would really like someone at the top to explicitly say, “People are better off if they don’t know what we are doing”, if we don’t have that explain to us, if they don’t have the option to accept or cancel our practices, if we hide as much as possible behind interesting features and then get them to accept surreptitious tracking on the back end, as long as the minimize. “
Other critics have suggested that Facebook encourages opt-in for ad tracking in a positive campaign, rather than attacking the notion of an opt-in or out choice. Levy responded to criticism by explaining that the campaign was simply “not about our business model”.
It’s Apple marketing at work and convincing you to scapegoat us so they can decide how the Internet should work – even beyond their devices. I am an optimist who works with technology because I think that technology can be a lever to democratize access and give opportunities. Even for business. And if you think this will stop personalized ads … well, then I disagree.
Other employee comments highlighted that the vigorous defense of small businesses was hypocritical because Facebook has repeatedly disabled small business advertiser ad accounts by mistake and increasingly uses automated customer support, leading to a plethora of public complaints from small businesses companies:
[They] point out that we are probably not doing everything we can to “defend the little ones [businesses]”when we don’t provide humane customer service to small advertisers.
Facebook spokeswoman Ashley Zandy responded to BuzzFeed News, insisting that small business stories are Facebook’s top priority:
Since the launch of this effort, we have heard from small businesses, literally, around the world, that they are concerned about how these changes could harm their business. Because this is such a critical time for [small- and medium-sized businesses], we will continue to share these stories with the public and our employees.
Following the launch of the campaign, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a non-profit organization that defends civil liberties in the digital world, classified Facebook’s criticisms of the privacy measures related to tracking “laughable”.