Apple vs Facebook: Explaining the Tim Cook – Mark Zuckerberg controversy
RoboCop v. Terminator. Aliens v. Predator. Batman v. Superman. Ali v. Frazier. None of those epic battles were as vicious as the current Cook v. Zuck. But why are Tim Cook, Apple CEO, and Mark Zuckerberg, star of The Social Network— sorry, Facebook CEO, feuding?
Believe it or not, this is all about user privacy and defending small businesses. These giant corporations are fighting for us, the little people. Really. Maybe. That’s what they claim, at least.
Here’s the thing: Tim Cook & Mark Zuckerberg, Apple & Facebook, haven’t liked each other for years. And that animosity finally seems to have come to a boiling point.
Fight for your right to be private
In this corner, Tim Cook & Apple! Last year, the tech giant announced a major upcoming change to their operating system. The new feature would require apps to request users’ permission before collecting data. Mind you, apps kind of do that already, in the sense that this permission is baked-in in the terms of service agreements most of us sign without ever reading them.
What Apple is going to do, however, is give users the ability to opt-out. You’ll be able to tell apps, “Nah, I’m good” when they ask you if they can track your usage. To quote Apple from a blog post about the iOS 14 updates: “Tracking refers to the act of linking user of device data collected from other companies’ apps, websites, or offline properties for targeted advertising or advertising measurement purposes.”
How will this affect the average user? That depends on how much you rely on advertisements to make your decisions. If you hardly ever look at, say, the ads on Facebook, then you probably won’t notice a difference if you opt-out of tracking.
We used Facebook ads as an example because that’s exactly why Mark Zuckerberg is so fired up about all this. Facebook, as you may know, is free for users. That’s because Facebook makes its money from selling ads – and user data tracking makes it a lot easier to advertise to the app’s users. Of course, Zuck’s not just going to say “Hey, I’m mad because my company’s going to make less money.”
Instead, Facebook’s argument is that Apple’s new policies will hurt small businesses & consumers. (Facebook cares about small businesses LOL.) The social media titan claimed that “without personalized ads powered by their own data, small businesses could see a cut of over 60% of website sales from ads.”
As for consumers, it’s not just that they’d get less relevant advertisements during their Facebook experience. In a 2019 op-ed in The Wall Street Journal, Mark Zuckerberg defended Facebook’s ad-reliant business model, saying it allows the site to be free for users. The implication being that if ads stopped being a solid source of revenue, maybe Facebook would stop being a free social media platform.
Now, let’s get one thing straight: it’s not like Tim Cook is a knight in shining armor, using Apple to defend us all from data-mining creeps. Apple will probably benefit from implementing this new policy. When app developers can’t make money off advertising, they’ll switch to making money off paid subscriptions & microtransactions – and Apple can take a cut off that.
On the other hand, Zuck’s claims regarding small businesses might be blowing the whole thing out of proportion. The Harvard Business Review called Facebook’s claims “misleading”. Their argument is that people who’re originally targeted by ads are targeted precisely because they are already big spenders. Less ads isn’t likely to make them spend less money.
So what happens now? We just wait for Apple to roll over the iOS updates and see how other app developers react, not just Facebook. And then we see how much we care about the way this changes the app landscape, if it changes it at all. Do you plan to opt out when that pop-up window asks you if Facebook can collect your data?