The feud between Tim Cook of Apple and Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook has been going on for some time. Allegedly it was going on in private at first, but Cook went public with things in 2014.
I think everyone has to ask, how do companies make their money? Follow the money, and if they're making money mainly by collecting gobs of personal data, I think you have a right to be worried. And you should really understand what's happening to that data.
And soon after that, Cook wrote:
A few years ago, users of Internet services began to realise that when an online service is free, you're not the customer. You're the product.
Zuckerberg responded in an interview with Time Magazine. Zuckerberg said:
A frustration I have is that a lot of people increasingly seem to equate an advertising business model with somehow being out of alignment with your customers. I think it's the most ridiculous concept. What, you think because you're paying Apple that you're somehow in alignment with them? If you were in alignment with them, then they'd make their products a lot cheaper.
Cook has another pop at Zuckerberg after the Cambridge Analytica scandal. When asked what he would do if he were Zuckerberg, Cook said:
What would I do? I wouldn't be in this situation.
The truth is, we could make a ton of money if we monetised our customer, if our customer was our product. We've elected not to do that.
Zuckerberg didn't take that lying down. Zuckerberg said:
You know, I find that argument, that if you're not paying that somehow we can't care about you, to be extremely glib. And not at all aligned with the truth.
I think it's important that we don't all get Stockholm Syndrome and let the companies that work hard to charge you more convince you that they actually care more about you. Because that sounds ridiculous to me.
Then, throwing his toys out of the pram, Zuckerberg switched his entire workforce from iOS to Android. A Facebook blog post stated:
Tim Cook has consistently criticised our business model and Mark has been equally clear he disagrees. So there's been no need to employ anyone else to do this for us. And we've long encouraged our employees and executives to use Android because it is the most popular operating system in the world.
Cook used a speech he made at a university in 2019 as an opportunity to have a go at advertising platforms, Cook said:
We reject the notion that getting the most out of technology means trading away your right to privacy, so we choose a different path: collecting as little of your data as possible, and being thoughtful and respectful when it's in our care. Because we know it belongs to you
In 2020 Zuckerberg jumped on the bandwagon and started criticising Apple's App Store policies. Zuckerberg said:
[Apple has a] unique stranglehold as a gatekeeper on what gets on phones. [Their App Store policies] allow Apple to charge monopoly rents
The latest thing they've been arguing about is Apple's IDFA. This is an IDentifier For Advertisers that iOS gives over to advertisers to allow tracking. Apple plan to request user consent before passing on the IDFA in future. Advertisers fear users will not consent and the repercussions on the advertising industry will be significant.
A Facebook executive said:
We’re still trying to understand what these changes will look like and how they will impact us and the rest of the industry, but at the very least, it’s going to make it harder for app developers and others to grow using ads on Facebook and elsewhere.
Our view is that Facebook and targeted ads are a lifeline for small businesses, especially in the time of Covid, and we are concerned that aggressive platform policies will cut at that lifeline at a time when it is so essential to small business growth and recovery.
Zuckerberg himself said:
Actions planned by platform companies like Apple could have a meaningful negative effect on small businesses and economic recovery in 2021 and beyond. Personalised advertising is helping small businesses find customers, grow their businesses and create jobs.
Facebook has framed its answers in a way that reflects how they see the change affecting small businesses, but it will also make Facebook less attractive as an advertising platform, which could affect their own revenues. I suspect this is what they're more concerned about.
I doubt Apple are doing this specifically to hurt Facebook, but I would imagine Zuckerberg's angst about it is a nice bonus as far as Cook is concerned.
Cook and Zuckerberg both have some valid points here. Zuckerberg says Apple kit is expensive and that's largely true. Apple does produce premium products. I generally like them and would expect to pay more for them, but sometimes they still seem overpriced, particularly where peripherals are concerned (charging $700 for some wheels, for example).
I find myself siding with Apple more in general, though. It's about permission. Nobody forces me to buy an Apple product, but a lot of advertising invades my privacy without my informed consent. If I can opt out at all, the advertisers make it awkward to do so and I have to go through the whole rigmarole for every site (and sometimes for every advertiser). I have long argued that all advertising cookies and tracking should be opt-in, with everything opted out by default.
In general we need far less advertising. I don't see why this wouldn't work economically, either; if there are fewer advertising slots, the cost of each slot would rise accordingly. I'd tolerate judicious advertising.
I'd tolerate tracking a data gathering too, but only with my informed consent and via a sensible activation procedure. That doesn't include the cookie permission and GDPR notices we get from almost every site either. They just give sites an easy way to get you to agree to everything.