Mark Zuckerberg and Tim Cook’s long-running feud could reach a head this week as a highly anticipated Apple operating system update will allow users to opt out of cross-platform tracking for the first time.
Tensions between Facebook and Apple have been building for a while, but the new operating system threatens to cripple Facebook’s business model, according to Ari Lightman, a professor of digital media and marketing at Carnegie Mellon’s Heinz College.
In recent months, he said of Zuckerberg and Cook, “They are at each other’s throats.” “The issues have different over the years, but consumer privacy is always at the heart of it, and Facebook could be in trouble with this update.”
Users will now see what information businesses gather about them and opt out of such data collection thanks to Apple’s latest iOS update. This is bad news for Facebook, whose business model is focused on data collection for 99 percent of its advertisement revenue.
Facebook has defined the update as an attack on small businesses that rely on its advertising models, even airing a series of television commercials on the subject, while Apple has positioned itself as a privacy savior. According to Gautam Hans, an intellectual property and privacy law professor at Vanderbilt University, neither of those narratives is entirely accurate.
“It’s more about control of the industry,” he explained. “Apple is a company very focused on controlling its own products and services, and they view Facebook as undermining that.”
According to a Wall Street Journal study published on Tuesday, the latest update that disadvantages Facebook may support Apple’s own ad products.
Shots fired at Facebook
The Apple update is the latest setback for Facebook, but the two firms have clashed on many occasions in recent years, most notably over Apple’s app store policies and user privacy.
Cook warned in 2014 about tech companies that benefit from gathering user data, urging users to “follow the money” to see if they should be “worried” about what apps they are using without specifically mentioning Facebook.
In 2018, Apple CEO Tim Cook took a more clear shot at Facebook. When asked in an interview what he would do if he were in charge of Facebook, Cook replied that he “wouldn’t be in this situation.”
Zuckerberg dismissed Cook’s remarks as “extremely glib” and “not at all consistent with the facts” in an interview with Ezra Klein. According to the Wall Street Journal, he also told staffers in private that Facebook should “inflict pain” on Apple because of the comments.
The companies’ dissatisfaction reached a new level last year, when CEOs exchanged grievances during congressional hearings on antitrust issues. In front of lawmakers in July 2020, Zuckerberg said that Apple’s iMessage has a wide market share in the messaging room, deflecting attention away from Facebook’s own supremacy.
In an interview with Casey Newton, a former Vox technology writer, Zuckerberg claimed last week that the fees Apple charges creators stifle the economy.
“I’ve been pretty vocal that I think some of the app store policies hurt the creative economy, especially during Covid taking a 30% tax from small businesses that have had to move online, is tough,” Zuckerberg said.
“They’re playing a game of chicken”
It’s critical to see the Facebook-Apple feud in the context of a recent drive by US lawmakers to control big tech, according to Jennifer King, a fellow at Stanford’s Institute for Human-Centered Artificial Intelligence.
Facebook spokeswoman Dani Lever said that the battle is for far more than advertisement dollars. Facebook and Apple have both had very different views about the internet, with Facebook advocating for ad-supported, free software and Apple favoring subscription-based or hardware profit-based models.
“This is not about two companies – this is about the future of the free internet,” Lever added. “[Apple] claims this is about privacy but it is really about profit, and we’re joining others to point out Apple’s hypocrisy and anti-competitive behavior.”
The back-and-forth between the companies comes at a time when big tech is facing unprecedented regulations. Facebook was reported to be planning an antitrust complaint against Apple over its App Store rules in January.
Since the two companies’ business structures are so dissimilar, the changes essentially amount to power plays, according to Lia Holland, a spokeswoman for digital rights organization Fight for the Future.
Surprisingly, both companies are expected to release their first quarter 2021 results on Wednesday.
Holland noted that the adjustments to these business models would not be occurring if the two firms were not already embroiled in an antitrust dispute with regulators.
“[Amid] increasing scrutiny on tech giants’ manipulation of our digital lives, Apple is throwing Facebook under the bus to try and claim that its App Store monopoly protects customers from much-maligned surveillance capitalism,” she said.
“We’re watching the latest toss in a game of PR hot-potato between two tech giants that feel the anti-monopoly hammer coming down – the only difference is that this time, everyday people’s rights benefit,” Holland said.