In anticipation of changes to iOS that will require apps to ask users for permission before tracking them, Facebook is going to start prompting users with its own screen outlining why it tracks app usage.
The prompt is intended to preface the system-level pop-up Apple will make mandatory in an upcoming iOS 14 release this spring. Notably, Facebook does not use the word tracking, but instead asks to “use your apps and website activity,” while the Apple pop-up that follows spells out that Facebook is asking for permission to “track you across apps and websites owned by other companies.” Developers have been able to ask for permission since the release of the new operating system last fall. Yet few have done so, while Apple delayed its implementation of the opt-in requirement in September of last year to give developers more time to comply.
Even the best designs must contend with tradeoffs, must be a guide for users, and must deal with constraints imposed by forces outside of the designer’s control. That’s the job, and it’s what makes the gig challenging, exciting, frustrating for sure, but also often fun.
There’s precedence for this kind of pre-prompt explainer — apps will often explain why they need permission to access your camera roll or location. I wouldn’t go so far as to call this a dark pattern, especially since the prompt from Apple will be clear, unambiguous, and unable to be changed by Facebook, but it certainly showcases the bind they are in.
The problem for Facebook is it exposes what was formerly hidden about the company and brings to the forefront something they were perfectly content to leave hidden. Once again, the fundamental problem of Facebook isn’t any one particular feature, it’s the soul of what it is.