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Fact Check: Facebook did not log out users to install a tracking device on their phones

Facebook users have suggested a recent app outage was planned so Facebook’s developers could install tracking devices onto mobile phones. This is not true.

Reuters Fact Check. REUTERS

One such post, shared 1,500 times since Jan. 23, promotes a post from another Facebook user that shows a “Tracking” tab on a screenshot from an Apple iPhone’s privacy settings (here). Alongside, the user writes: “Those of you who was logged out of face book this morning… check your phones, because it appears a new tracking device for app has been put on our phones.”

The post then included some brief instructions for how to stop the “device” from working: “Go to settings, privacy, and you’ll see tracking, if you don’t want it turn it off.”

On Jan. 23, Facebook said a widespread issue whereby users had been logged out of their accounts was down to a “configuration change” – and did not elaborate any further (here). It did not have anything to do with the “Tracking” tab on Apple devices, which predated the Facebook issue.

The “Tracking” tab is actually part of Apple’s iOS 14 release last year, which aims to give iPhone users better control over their privacy. Called App Tracking Transparency (ATT), it requires users to explicitly give permission for downloaded apps to use their data. This would be for the purposes of targeted advertising and specific data sharing (here, here).

The screenshot from the Facebook user shows how to use the ATT framework to stop all downloaded apps from using data, not just for Facebook, s explained here .

This new feature has been highlighted by Facebook, which took out a full-page advertisement in The Wall Street Journal to say it was “standing up to Apple” (here). In a separate statement, Facebook said the feature would have a “harmful impact” on small businesses relying on personalised advertising and said Apple’s policy was about “profit, not privacy” (here). Facebook later highlighted the controls offered by its Off-Facebook Activity feature from 2019 that allows users to see a summary of the apps and websites tracking information – and says this feature can be turned off (here).

The technology news website 9to5mac later reported that it had obtained a statement from Apple in response to the criticism from Facebook. The statement, according to 9to5mac, said: “Users should know when their data is being collected and shared across other apps and websites — and they should have the choice to allow that or not. App Tracking Transparency in iOS 14 does not require Facebook to change its approach to tracking users and creating targeted advertising, it simply requires they give users a choice” (here).

VERDICT

False. Facebook did not install a tracking device on to users’ mobile phones. The “Tracking” feature on Apple devices was introduced in a recent iOS 14 update and requires users to give their permission before apps can track specific data.

Read more about our work to fact-check social media posts here .

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