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Can Apple & Facebook’s Privacy Dispute Be Resolved? If So, How?

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Apple and Facebook’s disagreement of privacy and data tracking practices is well documented, but the two do also benefit from a symbiosis.

The escalating feud between Facebook and Apple may seem counterintuitive. In the smartphone era, the two companies have enjoyed a natural symbiosis. The iPhone’s camera and interface encouraged more on-the-go status updates. Meanwhile, Facebook’s emphasis on media sharing pushed consumers pining for high-res pics and chin-lift filters to buy more expensive phones (and to buy them more often). However, over the past few years, a major philosophical difference has surfaced, testing the mutually beneficial relationship of these two Silicon Valley neighbors.

This tension between the two, which has grown starker due to recent events, becomes clear when comparing Apple and Facebook’s business models. Where does the money come from? For Apple, most of the revenue comes from a single stream of consumers buying the latest laptops, phones, and accompanying accessories, all of which it notoriously outdates and updates ad nauseum. For Facebook, the primary source of revenue is ad sales, with advertisers able to use Facebook’s vast amount of data to precisely target different types of users. Unfortunately, this means that the needs of Facebook’s clientele sometimes run against those of Apple.

As a luxury brand, Apple realizes that consumers will pay a premium for privacy, especially when it’s getting rarer by the day. This has steered the company toward developing tools for protecting users from external data-catchers like Facebook. For instance, in 2019 when Apple discovered that a Facebook component was flouting its rules, it promptly banned several Facebook internal developer apps. Apple’s CEO Tim Cook, meanwhile, has been railing against the data collection practices of Facebook for the last few years, reinforcing this growing rift. According to The Wall Street Journal, when Cook and Mark Zuckerberg had a face-to-face discussion at a tech conference in 2017, the atmosphere was tense, with both citing ways in which their companies were growing apart.

Facebook Vs. Apple: Meeting Of Minds Or Clash Of Titans?

Comparing Apple and Facebook’s business models is like comparing a luxury Caribbean cruise with a free weekend getaway to Miami for a timeshare presentation. In one, you get all the privacy and perks you paid for, but you’re limited to what’s on the boat. In the other, everything’s free, but only so long as you don’t mind filling out reams of forms with all your personal information and, of course, sitting through a few slideshows brought to you by the folks who really pay the bills.

But are these missions hopelessly incompatible? As mentioned, the two titans do benefit from the other’s existence in major ways. Given Facebook’s popularity, even if Apple does embrace a business model that values user privacy above partnerships with external apps, it’s hard to imagine the company not finding a way to accommodate the blue-and-white wall. Alternatively, Cook’s opposition to data-tracking may force Facebook to make a few concessions in the way it profits off of user data.

A compromise seems possible when considering the fact that the divide isn’t so clear-cut. As Zuckerberg and others have noted, Apple’s white knight act when it comes to privacy may be a bit disingenuous, given the company’s partnerships with Google and the Chinese government, two of the world’s biggest data harvesters. However, Cook’s anti-data-tracking rhetoric could be winning the public debate, as the maxim ‘If you’re not paying for the product, you are the product’ seeps into common knowledge and as events like the riots at the Capitol cast social media’s outrage and disinformation algorithms into high relief.

Next: Facebook & Other Big Tech CEOs Survive Antitrust Grilling: Highlights

Source: The Wall Street Journal



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P.K. French
(3 Articles Published)

P.K. French writes about the intersection of tech, politics, and culture. His work can also be found in Wired and Innovation & Tech Today.

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