Published On: Sat, Jan 30th, 2021

Apple’s Tim Cook Strikes Back at Facebook

Could the two companies go to war over privacy issues?

Mark Zuckerberg and Tim Cook

Apple CEO Tim Cook has returned fire in what is turning into a full-fledged war between his company and Facebook. The two giants are at odds over a recent decision by Apple to change the privacy settings for its iOS operating system. The new policy will affect Facebook’s ability to gather data on all of its traffic emanating from iPads and iPhones.

Today the two companies are engaged in a war of words, or a diplomatic conflict, reminiscent of how the super powers engaged with one another during the Cold War.

A new feature will be added this spring to Apple’s recently released iOS 14 operating system which will ask users whether they want to opt-in before sharing the IDFA identifier other parties. The Identifier for Advertisers (IDFA) is a random device identifier assigned by Apple to a user’s device. Companies like Facebook use this to get their all-important marketing information on their users in order to create targeted ads.

When the new policy is implemented under “Settings” Apple device users will be able to see which apps have requested permission to track their locations. They will be able to make changes to what is revealed to third parties as they see fit.

Facebook is concerned that it will see a downturn in its advertising revenue this year because of the new Apple policy.

On that issue Mark Zuckerberg said that Facebook has “a lot of competitors who make claims about privacy that are often misleading.”

Facebook CFO Dave Wehner said in a statement that his company will, “continue to face significant uncertainty as we manage through a number of cross currents in 2021. We also expect to face more significant ad targeting headwinds in 2021. This includes the impact of platform changes, notably iOS 14, as well as the evolving regulatory landscape.”

But observers point out that Apple is under no obligation to provide such information to other companies. And privacy advocates have been calling for years for people to have just such control over their private information.

To Tim Cook, Facebook’s complaints that Apple is now harming their ability to generate revenue sound like whining. He has questioned Mark Zuckerberg’s implication that other companies are somehow obligated to help Facebook with its data mining for advertising.

We should not look away from the bigger picture and a moment of rampant disinformation and conspiracy theory is juiced by algorithms. We can no longer turn a blind eye to a theory of technology that says all engagement is good engagement, the longer the better, and all with the goal of collecting as much data as possible.

“Too many are still asking the question, ‘How much can we get away with?’ When they need to be asking, ‘What are the consequences?’

Tim Cook

In a speech to the 2021 Computers, Privacy and Data Protection conference
(CPDP), Tim Cook said, “Technology does not need vast troves of personal data stitched together across dozens of websites and apps in order to succeed. Advertising existed and thrived for decades without it, and we’re here today because the path of least resistance is rarely the path of wisdom.”

While not specifically mentioning Facebook, Mr. Cook spoke said that no company which exploits its users’ data nor even informs them that their personal information is being collected deserves anyone’s sympathies.

He also made references to those who ignore fake news and allow the proliferation of conspiracy theories just because they can make a lot of money from it. “A social dilemma cannot be allowed to become a social catastrophe,” he added.

Now the ball is in Facebook’s court, so to speak. It will be interesting to see how Mark Zuckerberg responds. While neither side may have nuclear weapons, some sort of hot war between Apple and Facebook could be devastating. However, as Facebook’s entire business model is based on gathering data and selling it for advertising, while Apple actually sells products that people use, Mark Zuckerberg may very well find that a peaceful solution is in his interest.

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