It’s really no longer news that Apple and Facebook aren’t friends and they are not enemies either. Sure, they’re mostly polite, but there’s no mistaking the degree to which there is a bit of hostility between the two tech giants. It’s some sort of a strange position for two technology powerhouse that arguably depends on each other in so many unusual ways. A clear example, Facebook certainly depends on the iPhone considering that mobile representation of its social platform usage is at 98 percent. Although Android devices have a good portion as well, in the U.S. at least, the iPhone is probably Facebook’s most important platform, no doubt.
Of course, Facebook is also as important to the iPhone. For some reason, if suddenly users couldn’t use their Facebook apps that would be a bad blow for Apple considering that people genuinely like using Facebook, despite few concerns. A good number of these people would immediately switch to devices other than iPhones.
Interestingly, both technology companies can’t seem to resist the urge to take polite shots at each other at every chance they get. For example, Facebook took out full-page ads decrying Apple’s decision to require developers to request permission before tracking users across apps and websites. That’s a big deal to Facebook considering its business is largely based on doing just that. Apple CEO, Tim Cook responded that he isn’t “focused on Facebook at all.” Which, as I wrote at the time, is both brilliant and brutal in its dismissal of the company.
More recently, Facebook threw shade at Apple over the latter company’s announcement that it was implementing a change in future versions of iOS in order to detect CSAM images uploaded to iCloud Photos. Will Cathcart, the CEO of WhatsApp (which is owned by Facebook) said that Apple’s decision represented a surveillance state and was the wrong approach? Well, that said, for a moment, the fact that Facebook is widely considered the worst privacy offender in a tech industry that can’t resist monetizing user data at every opportunity. The bigger point is that–considering how much emphasis Apple puts on privacy–Facebook saw a chance to hit the company where it hurts most.
Now, Cook has another response, this time in an interview with The Australian Financial Review about tech companies and privacy. Cook says ”Technology doesn’t want to be good. It doesn’t want to be bad, it’s neutral. And so it’s in the hands of the inventor and the user as to whether it’s used for good, or not used for good…The risk of not doing that means that technology loses touch with the user. And in that kind of case, privacy can become collateral damage. Conspiracy theories or hate speech begins to drown everything else out. Technology will only work if it has people’s trust.
The most important was the last nine words of Tim Cook – which discuss how “technology will only work if it has people’s trust.” That’s as clear an explanation of what’s wrong with Facebook as I’ve heard yet. And, while Cook doesn’t specifically mention Facebook, the part about “conspiracy theories or hate speech,” makes it pretty clear who he’s referring to. The point seems very clear, tech companies especially Facebook, are focused on building technological features and products daily, with little or no regard for the impact of user privacy. It’s not hard to see how true that is. Facebook has reportedly been putting research to work to analyze encrypted messages for the purpose of targeting ads at WhatsApp users–something it hasn’t been able to do so far. For protection, it is up to the companies handling data to ensure that it remains private. Compliance regulations reflect this difference and are created to help ensure that users’ privacy requests are enacted by companies.
The company has also gone out of its way to defend its use of tracking user data as the key to the free and open internet, and crucial to small businesses. Even if those things are true, it really just drives home Cook’s point, which is “privacy can become collateral damage.” If your business model depends on gathering up and monetizing as much data from your users as possible, it’s pretty challenging to also protect their privacy.
It is also worth noting that Apple is not speared and is facing its own criticism over how it handles user privacy right now. Of course, much of that pushback is related to the fact that Apple has long been a champion of protecting personal data, and its decision to include the technology on the iPhone that can “scan” your photos for CSAM, feels like a deprivation from the promise. It makes sense that Apple would want to shift the focus back to what it considers far worse privacy offenders while reminding everyone of its own privacy bona fides. Of course, the reason that matters is the reason Cook mentions the word “trust.” Sometimes it seems like there is a huge disconnect between the way Facebook sees its role in the world, and the way the rest of us see it. It’s challenging to give Facebook the benefit of the doubt if you can’t trust that it has your best interests in mind.