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Facebook Faces Apple-Related Headwinds in 2021

By Danny Vena - Feb 5, 2021 at 12:00PM

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The social media baron expects a big hit from upcoming changes that will accompany iOS 14.

When Facebook (FB 1.06%) announced earnings last week, the company went to great lengths to paint Apple (AAPL 1.88%) as the villain. The social media titan said it expects "more significant ad targeting headwinds in 2021," the result of proactive changes to Apple's privacy measures with the rollout of iOS 14 later this quarter.

On this clip from Motley Fool Live, recorded on Jan. 28, "The Wrap" host Jason Hall and Fool.com contributor Danny Vena discuss Apple's upcoming privacy changes and why they have Facebook up in arms.

Jason Hall: Danny Vena. We've got two on your on your list here. Let's start with, well, you tell me. You want to start with Facebook, you want to start with Tesla?

Danny Vena: Why don't we start with Facebook? I know Tesla is the perennial favorite but just based on what's actually happening, I thought Facebook earnings and presentation was a little bit more interesting. So I'll start there.

Facebook actually did better than what many analysts predicted. Revenue was up 33% year over year. Advertising revenue was up 31% year over year and that made it the best ad revenue quarter in over two years. Now it's important to mention that their ad impressions fell by 9%. So it's making more money by charging more for the ads, but it's generating fewer impressions. That's not really sustainable.

Earnings per share was up 52%. Both earnings per share and revenue exceeded analysts' expectations. Couple of interesting notes. The average revenue per user was up 19%. Daily active users grew to 1.84 billion. Monthly active users grew to 2.8 billion.

Then what I thought was most interesting was the fact that Facebook went really heavily into hedging its bets over the coming quarter. You could hear that. First of all, they talked about Apple a lot during the conference call. In fact, I think it mentioned Apple 13 different times during the conference call.

One of the things they said was: "We continue to face significant uncertainty as we manage through a number of crosscurrents in 2021. We also expect to face significant ad targeting headwinds. This includes the impact of platform changes, notably iOS 14. While the timing of iOS 14 changes remains uncertain, we would expect to see an impact beginning late in the first quarter."

For those who aren't familiar with that, they're talking about Apple's decision regarding the identifier for advertisers or IDFA. We've talked about this before but upcoming updates and Apple announced it's going to happen in the first quarter. Sorry?

Hall: You're good. You hung up a little bit on us.

Vena: Okay.

Hall: [inaudible] get back out there, Danny.

Vena: [laughs] I already was on the phone with the cable company this morning.

Hall: Oh, boy.

Vena: So as the short version is, is that Apple is going to have users opt in for ad tracking versus opting out like it did before. If you log into an app and that app tracks your behavior across websites and such, then you're going to get a warning that's going to say: "This app is tracking your behavior. Do you want to continue to allow that?" You're going to have to say "yes" in order for that to happen.

Facebook has put a lot of eyes on that. I don't think it's that big of a deal for Apple but it's a big deal for Facebook. Right now, the estimates are that 70% of the people still allowed ad tracking. Only 30% of the people opted out last year.

Hall: Well, then, this is the key, right? I think this is just really just to make sure it's a 100% clear. The way your phone works now is you have to actively go into every app and tell the app, "No, don't share my data." The change is going to be now the apps have to ask you actively to tell the app, yes. That's a massive sea change. I think I just broke Danny's internet. You back, Danny?

Vena: You froze up for a minute, but apparently it was me. [laughs]

Hall: Keep going.

Vena: Just so you know, I'm getting a message that says my internet connection is unstable, so we'll try to work quickly through this. I guess, just the bottom line is that they are expecting the number of users sharing data to drop to between 10% and 15%, down from 70% today, that could hammer Facebook's ad revenue.

In fact, I read a story today that Facebook is even considering filing an antitrust lawsuit against Apple because of that, among other things, so we'll see how that goes.

Hall: Oh, irony. [laughs]

Vena: Facebook -- pot, meet kettle.

Hall: That's fantastic.

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