Last July, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, along with executives from Google, Amazon and Apple, spent a long day respond to passionate questions from members of the House Antitrust Subcommittee. Did he realize at the time that the most immediate threat to his company’s business model would not come from Congress, but from one of the other executives present at the hearing?
If he hasn’t done it then, he is doing it now. Apple CEO Tim Cook gave a speech on Thursday morning explaining his company’s upcoming privacy changes, which will prohibit apps from sharing iPhone user behavior with third parties unless they are users do not give their explicit consent. And he clarified that these new policies were designed at least in part with Facebook in mind. Speak in a conference summoned On International Data Protection Day, Cook valued the social media business model, which is based on monitoring people’s behavior in order to target ads to them.
“The point is, an interconnected ecosystem of businesses and data brokers, fake news providers and division hawkers, trackers and salespeople just looking to make a quick buck, is more present in our lives. than ever has been, ”he told me. “Technology doesn’t need vast amounts of personal data, assembled across dozens of websites and apps, to be successful.” Cook didn’t mention Facebook by name, but he didn’t need to. It was perfectly clear who he was thinking when he asked rhetorical questions like, “What are the consequences of seeing thousands of users join extremist groups and then perpetuating an algorithm that recommends even more?” It looked like something the documentary The social dilemma– in fact, Cook used that exact phrase at one point.
The two companies have traded beards over privacy for years, with Cook remarking in 2018, “If our customer were our product, we could make a lot of money. We chose not to do this. But Thursday’s speech was more than just a corporate trash speech. Apple’s new application tracking transparency frame, what was announced for the first time last summer, is aimed directly at any business that makes money by following users on the Internet. Starting this spring, every iOS app that wants to “track” a user – that is, share their behavior and data with other apps, websites, or data brokers – must first get their permission. express. (There are small exceptions, like sharing data for fraud prevention and security purposes.) Almost everyone expects the vast majority of users to opt out.
It would be bad news for Facebook. The company makes a lot of money providing what it calls “similar audiences. Advertisers upload lists of their existing customers, then Facebook generates a corresponding list of users who look like those customers, based on demographic and behavioral data, and are therefore likely to respond to an ad. To do this effectively, they must be able to link the identity of a given user to everything they do on the web, using things like device IDs and email addresses. It won’t be able to do this for iPhone users who opt out of tracking. As a result, advertisers are likely to be less willing to pay. Some analysts have predicted that the immediate impact of the change could reduce Facebook’s revenue by more than 10%.
The company therefore launched a public relations offensive against Apple’s changes. In December he released full page ads in major newspapers stating that he was “standing up for Apple for small businesses,” arguing that marketers will have a harder time reaching the right customers if they can’t target them based on their behavioral data. Another ad warned that apps would have to start charging fees, which “would change the internet as we know it – for the worse.” In one call for earnings On Wednesday, Zuckerberg stepped up the attack on Apple even further, devoting far more attention to it than to any of the lawsuits his company faces state and federal agencies. “Apple has every interest in using its dominant position on the platform to interfere with the functioning of our apps and other apps, which they regularly do to prefer theirs,” he said. “Apple can say they are doing this to help people, but these steps clearly follow their competitive interests.” It was a thinly veiled accusation that Apple violated antitrust laws. (Indeed, after the call for earnings, the information reported Facebook is considering filing a civil antitrust complaint.)
Zuckerberg is certainly right about one thing: Apple is using its dominance in the mobile phone market to unilaterally impose a major change in the way user data is tracked and shared online. Establishing an “opt in” regime, in which privacy is the default and users must give affirmative consent to share their data, has long been a dream of privacy activists. Few people are willing to bother to unsubscribe of every site or app they use, let alone the ones they don’t know. Acceptance is seen as so politically and even legally difficult to achieve, that even the new privacy law, the most ambitious in the country, does not go that far. And yet Apple, a private company, can flip a switch and do what no US government regulator has – at least for about half of the US mobile market it controls. (Internationally, Google’s Android operating system is much more popular.)