Credit: Jesse Hollington
Facebook Watch was a popular way for Apple TV users to check out Facebook videos on the big screen. You could sign in to your Facebook account and view videos from your own timeline, your friends and family, groups and pages you were following, and more.
Sadly, it doesn’t look like will be an option anymore.
Ironically, the move came in an update to the Facebook Watch app that introduced a new design. However, upon opening the app and selecting a user profile, the welcome screen is overlaid with a message that says, “The Facebook Watch TV app is no longer available.”
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Instead, the app says, you can “still find lots of videos on Facebook at www.facebook.com/watch.” However, that’s not particularly helpful for Apple TV users since the set-top box doesn’t include a web browser.
This means the only official way to watch videos from Facebook on an Apple TV is to pull out your iPhone, iPad, or Mac and resort to streaming them via AirPlay.
However, you can skip the Apple TV entirely if you have a smart TV. Facebook Watch still appears to be available on various smart TV app stores, and it works fine on those devices.
Why Is Facebook Abandoning the Apple TV?
Although there’s an argument that the Apple TV isn’t the most popular platform for app makers to support, it still seems a bit unusual for a giant like Facebook to suddenly cut it off, especially when it’s still enthusiastically supporting other smart TV platforms.
After all, this isn’t a game developer who isn’t getting a large enough audience to justify continuing to support the unique requirements of the Apple TV. The effort required by Facebook to make Facebook Watch work on the Apple TV has to be minimal compared to all of the other platforms where the app can be found, from LG and Samsung TVs to Amazon Fire sticks and the Xbox One and Series S/X consoles.
Of course, Facebook may be considering pulling out of these other platforms, but so far, we haven’t seen any evidence of that. The Facebook Watch FAQ also still lists the Apple TV as a supported platform, so it will be interesting to see if others drop off that list.
However, Facebook may have a slightly more sinister motivation for dropping support for the Facebook Watch tvOS app: advertising tracking.
When I opened Facebook Watch on my LG Smart TV, the first thing I saw was a notice that Facebook would be collecting cookies “to provide a better experience,” noting that if I wanted to continue, then I’m agreeing to let it “collect information through cookies.”
We all know what Facebook is like when it comes to privacy; it’s a data-hungry machine that relies on tracking user behavior to collect marketing data and sell ads. We also know about Apple’s stance on privacy on all of its devices — including the Apple TV.
Facebook loathes Apple’s App Tracking Transparency feature, and it’s common knowledge that it’s been seriously affecting Facebook’s bottom line. Using Facebook Watch on your Apple TV won’t give Facebook nearly as much data as it can glean from your smart TV, where privacy protections are next to nonexistent.
For example, since most smart TV apps run through a common web browser framework, Facebook Watch can determine which other apps you’ve installed on your TV, which ones you’re using, and how much you’re using them. In some cases, Facebook may even know what you’re watching in those other apps. That depends on their privacy policies, but it would be naive to expect YouTube or Netflix to behave any better than Facebook when it comes to this kind of thing.
All of this is strictly forbidden by Apple’s privacy policies. The closest a tvOS app can get to figuring out what you’re doing is by using an advertising identifier that can be shared across apps, but that’s also what App Tracking Transparency is designed to prevent. There’s a good chance that many Facebook users will opt-out when given the option.
However, since most Apple TV users have their set-top boxes plugged into smart TVs, Facebook is probably hoping that Facebook fans will switch to using Facebook Watch there, where the social media giant can happily hoover up much more useful tracking data.