Apple and Facebook are currently ranked 1 and 6 respectively in the list of biggest companies by market cap. These tech behemoths wield immense influence in both the business and social spheres. They also have different, seemingly opposing views on the nature of privacy in today’s society. These disparate philosophies have increased tensions between the two tech giants, and recently it’s escalated. We’ll break down the history and the sources of the standoff.
A brief history
Things weren’t always so frosty between the organizations. In fact, according to a 2012 biography, Apple CEO Steve Jobs admired Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg. So much so, it was a driving force in the reluctance of Apple to start a competing social network. However, after the death of Jobs in 2011, things cooled off considerably when current CEO Tim Cook took over.
Perhaps sensing the way things were going in the industry, Cook came out in 2014 with an open letter that took indirect jabs at Facebook and Google. In it, he claimed Apple was not in the business of creating detailed user profiles on individuals through the use of data mining. While he did not mention his competitors directly, it was obvious who he was denouncing.
That same year, Zuckerberg fired back in an interview with TIME Magazine, stating
“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 you 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!”
We’d recommend reading this article. Perhaps everyone was a bit naïve at the time, but re-reading it through the lens of 2021 with an understanding of the path Facebook took, the plan Zuckerberg outlined seems much more nefarious and a good example of real-life supervillainy. What could go wrong with the CEO of the world’s most invasive social platform wanting to bring internet connection to the entirety of the world?
We digress. Throughout the next seven years, the two CEOs traded barbs on issues such as the Cambridge Analytica scandal and Apple’s monopolistic control of its App Store. In the end, the arguments usually boiled down to Tim Cook accusing Facebook of invading users’ privacies and Zuckerberg saying Apple products cost too much or that the company is an unfair gatekeeper.
We tend to fall on Cook’s side of the argument. It’s true Apple products cost significantly more than competing hardware solutions. But, as we outlined in a previous blog about free software, trading privacy for free or cheap products has serious drawbacks. Now, back to the feud.
Tensions boil over
Fast-forward to today. In late 2020, Apple started requiring software on the App Store to come with informative “privacy labels” that clearly state the data the app collects on its users. This was great news for AXEL, but not so much for Facebook. Facebook Messenger alone has a privacy label that reads more like a novel than a brief overview.
The labels, combined with the most recent update, have sent Facebook reeling for solutions. The latest update goes a step farther than labels and provides users with the oft-talked-about ‘Opt-In’ scenario regarding data collection. ‘Opt-In’ is a concept that requires users to agree to corporate data collection formally. This is a major step forward in the fight for digital privacy rights. It’s much better than current United States privacy regulations in states such as California and Virginia. Those pieces of legislation mandate companies provide an ‘Opt-Out’ option. While better than nothing, the fact is that consumers are busy. They don’t have the knowledge or desire to scroll through layers of confusing websites to exercise their right to opt-out.
This makes Opt-In the preferred way to offer privacy. It makes privacy the default, which will vastly increase the number of people exiting the corporate surveillance scheme. Unsurprisingly, companies like Facebook are not happy about this! Personalized advertising is the company’s lifeblood, and without user data to gather and analyze, ad revenues will likely fall.
Facebook hasn’t taken these changes lying down. Their argument centers around the effects felt by small businesses due to Apple’s changes. Facebook frames its data collection around its usefulness to small businesses. Without the ability to target people most likely to buy, these companies will feel the brunt of the impact, causing many of them to close.
Facebook started a public relations blitz, using television commercials and full-page ads in popular newspapers to drive home the point. It has received some mockery for this in the mainstream media. It certainly does appear to be a rather transparent way to further its own goals while seeming to have more profound principles.
Facebook also raised another issue, and though it didn’t receive as much attention from the media, it probably has more merit. They claim that Apple’s recent privacy push isn’t out of any benevolent intentions for consumers but rather greed. Apple receives anywhere from 15-30% of App Store sales, depending on the developers’ overall revenue. By giving consumers the choice to opt into data collection, they must know that most users will decline. This could cause a shift from free apps that generate revenue based on advertising to more paid apps. In turn, Apple receives more money from downloads since more of them are paid. If true, it’s a very sneaky way for the tech manufacturer to make more money while playing the good guy.
The reality is that both Facebook and Apple are profit-driven mega-corporations looking to protect their businesses. You can’t blame either of them for this feud, although it seems obvious that Apple comes out ahead from a public utility perspective. Whatever the root cause, any initiative to substantially increase digital privacy is a good thing in our book.
AXEL is dedicated to fighting for digital privacy rights for everyone. The concept of data custody and forging lasting trust between consumers and technology is embedded into our corporate philosophy. We develop our products and services to live up to these lofty ideals.
If you are looking for a privacy-focused cloud storage and file-sharing platform, try AXEL Go free for 14-days. During the trial period, you receive all Premium features, including removing file-size restrictions, Secure Fetch functionality, and storage encryption. AXEL never collects personal information to sell to third parties or mines your content for advertising. We’re an alternative tech company you can trust. Secure your files. Secure your digital future with AXEL.
 Emil Protalinski, “Steve Jobs admired Zuckerberg too much to compete with him”, CNET.com, July 17, 2012, https://www.cnet.com/news/steve-jobs-admired-zuckerberg-too-much-to-compete-with-him/
 Steve Musil, “Tim Cook explains Apple’s privacy policies in open letter”, CNET.com, Sept. 17, 2014, https://www.cnet.com/news/tim-cook-explains-apples-privacy-policies-in-open-letter/
 Ben Lovejoy, “App privacy labels show stark contrasts among messaging apps”, 9to5mac.com, Jan. 4, 2021, https://9to5mac.com/2021/01/04/app-privacy-labels-messaging-apps/
 Ian Sherr, “Apple’s privacy battle with Facebook just became all-out war”, CNET.com, April 26, 2021, https://www.cnet.com/news/apples-privacy-battle-with-facebook-just-became-all-out-war/
 Megan Graham, “Facebook blasts Apple in new ads over iPhone privacy change”, CNBC, Dec. 16, 2020, https://www.cnbc.com/2020/12/16/facebook-blasts-apple-in-new-ads-over-iphone-privacy-change-.html