Three Apple battles to watch in 2021

Here’s the thing about being one of the most prominent—and, by some measurements most valuable—company in the world: it paints a heck of a target on your back. Apple’s long found itself on the receiving end of attacks from competitors, smaller challengers, and the government, and that hasn’t changed in recent years.

But as we flip our calendars over to 2021, there are already a handful of battles in progress that could have marked effects on Apple’s business in both the short and long terms. Of course, a company with as many resources as Apple may be able to weather the occasional squall, but every once in a while you get a perfect storm that’s harder to fend off.

Let’s take a look at these three brewing fights and how they might force Apple to batten down its hatches in the year ahead.

Apple vs. Facebook

If you’ve been paying attention to tech news, you’ve probably seen the recent offensive launched by one of Apple’s rivals in Big Tech. Facebook has taken aim at an upcoming measure Apple is planning to implement: App Tracking Transparency.

As Facebook would have it, this measure would completely destroy advertising on the Internet, especially impacting small businesses that predominantly rely on advertising to get their products out there. The social media giant has taken out full page ads in the Wall Street Journal, casting itself as a defender of those same small businesses in standing up to Apple’s tyranny.

So what is App Tracking Transparency? It’s pretty much what it says on the tin. Many websites and apps track information about you using third-party ad networks—like, say, Facebook’s—thus aggregating data about customers’ activities across the net. That information is then used to build profiles customers, allowing ad networks to make more narrowly targeted ads. If you’ve ever felt like you were just thinking about a product and then suddenly seen an ad for that product appear, this kind of tracking is one way ad companies make that happen.

Apple’s new measure would simply require apps to ask users if they consent to this tracking, making it more of an opt-in situation than the opt-out it is currently. Understandably, Facebook and other ad networks—who profit handsomely by the current situation—aren’t thrilled about this, for the simple reason that most people probably aren’t going to jump at the chance to opt in. But Apple’s stance is that this is about transparency and privacy for consumers, and it’s tough to argue that point. The change is expected to go into effect with the upcoming release of iOS 14.4, but the battle may just be getting started.

Apple vs. Epic

The App Store became a contentious battleground this year, and of the shots that were fired, more than a few of them originated in Fortnite. The extremely popular free-to-play game became a major point of contention this year when its developer, Epic Games, decided to take on Apple’s App Store for being anticompetitive and unfair.