In recent years Apple has moved aggressively to brand itself as a privacy-friendly company that stands in contrast to competitors like Facebook and Google, whose Android operating system runs at least 70 percent of smartphones globally. (In the United States, Apple’s iOS has a slight edge in market share over Android.) Apple calls privacy “a fundamental human right” and “one of our core values,” a mantra it’s invoked repeatedly in recent keynote presentations and advertising blitzes.
This week, Apple is following up its rhetoric with a modest but potentially consequential action, as the company unveils an iOS feature that allows users to prevent apps from tracking what they do with other apps—like when you open the BBC News app and you see a prompt asking if you want to let the BBC track your activity when you’re doing other things on your phone (in order to serve up better-targeted ads, these apps usually claim). As if to dispense with any doubt over the feature’s purpose, Apple has circulated a sample notification demonstrating that it can be used to limit Facebook from tracking user activity.
Described by The New York Times as one of the company’s “most anticipated software updates” in years, the new feature has come to stand in for the brewing war between the two tech giants, which pits Apple CEO Tim Cook against Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. “We believe users should have the choice over the data that is being collected about them and how it’s used,” Cook tweeted in December. Facebook, in turn, has cast Apple’s privacy-enhancing moves as a strike against the open and free internet—one that Facebook has managed to cast a data dragnet over—depicting the move as part of a larger effort to funnel users toward subscription services, from which Apple can take a cut. “This is going to have a real impact on the internet as we know it, which is increasingly going to move to a paid experience,” Facebook’s director of privacy and public policy told NPR back in February.
While it’s easy to give this round to Apple, both companies are dealing in the self-serving language of spin. Neither Facebook nor Apple should be trusted as a benevolent sovereign to guide the direction of the internet or digital communications. What the Apple versus Facebook fight dramatizes is less two competing visions of the internet than which tech titan’s walled garden one might prefer: the gilded environs of Apple—where premium products still pack some surveillance features but are slathered in the company’s hazy rhetoric of consumer empowerment—or that of info-hungry Facebook, Google, and their partners in the personal data trade. Both come at a cost beyond their sticker price, and no matter who wins here, consumers are going to be paying—with their wallets and their data—for a long time to come.
As part of its larger privacy pivot, this month, Apple published a document called “A Day in the Life of Your Data” that, using the story of a father and daughter planning a trip to the park, describes the vast web of trackers and data brokers collecting information about practically everything we do. “The average app has 6 trackers,” the document warns, noting that “the majority of popular Android and iOS apps have embedded trackers.” By the end of their park excursion, the document says, “a number of companies John has never interacted with, all around the world, have updated their profiles with information about him and his daughter.” In the face of this invasive behavior—abetted by iOS apps that themselves come bearing tracking code—Apple wants users to know it abides by principles like “data minimization”—collecting only the necessary amount of data required for a service—and “user transparency and control.”
What’s clear from this abbreviated tour through the world of data collection is that Apple and its products are heavily wrapped up in surveillance-as-a-business-model, even if the bulk of Apple’s revenues comes from selling physical goods and digital services. Apple still makes a hefty $2 billion per year from advertising—a number that some analysts think could surge in the next few years as services like Apple TV+ provide the company with a larger footprint in people’s homes. Google pays Apple $8 to $12 billion per year to be the default search engine on the iPhone—an especially coveted position that allows Google to gather tons of data on iPhone owners. (While Apple does collect information on a range of user activities, it claims that that information is not passed on to other companies and that ads are targeted based on anonymized behaviors.)
This conflict is also based on a dubious premise: that privacy is the only applicable value when choosing between these two companies and their competing techno-ideological visions. Apple’s labor history—from a Steve Jobs–led wage-fixing scheme to brutal factory conditions in Asia—is worthy of condemnation on its own. As Ian Bogost has written (and as that Apple privacy white paper confirms), Apple’s vast app store is a key cog in the surveillance-capitalist machine. If Apple were truly committed to privacy, the company would use its influential app store to “ban companies whose data-collection and usage practices are incompatible with its supposedly progressive position,” Bogost noted, and it would deploy its enormous cash reserves—now pegged at $195.57 billion—to develop alternative apps and services.
Facebook’s history of privacy missteps and avaricious data collection hardly needs recapitulating. The company has become a massive dealer in free services precisely by monetizing the behaviors and attention of its users. Its view into consumers’ lives is practically total. By the standard of consumer privacy—an important but by no means all-encompassing metric—Facebook falls well short of Apple.
But we are in hazardous territory when a company rife with labor exploitation, and which is only now throwing up privacy barricades that might, barely, put a dent in its rivals’ data collection, is considered a friend to consumers. That is doubly true when many consumers can’t afford its products and the boutique form of privacy it offers. Their competitors are no better: The “open and free internet” that Zuckerberg pines for will not be found in Apple-approved apps or on Facebook-monitored websites. By constantly hearkening back to a more innocent, prelapsarian vision of an unfettered internet that can never be recovered, Zuckerberg is casting himself and Facebook in a position they don’t deserve. Certainly we need a new vision for how people live and work online—one that decouples communication from surveillance—but tech giants won’t be the ones to bring it into being. Their interests are too vast, their support of the status quo that has enriched them is practically guaranteed. They need the very thing they value most: disruption.
Facebook-Meta Earns the ‘Worst Company of 2021’ Title in This Survey
Facebook parent Meta has been named the Worst Company of the Year (2021) by Yahoo Finance respondents. According to the publication, an “open-ended” survey was published on Yahoo Finance on December 4 and 5, where 1,541 respondents participated. Facebook received 8 percent of the write-in vote, but respondents were seemingly mad about the Robinhood trading app as well. Electric truck startup Nikola, which was named last year’s worst company by the same publication also faced respondents ire.
Yahoo Finance even highlights, “At the same time, some critics, including conservatives, say Facebook over-policed the platform’s speech and stifled their voices.” Critics also blame Facebook and other social media platforms for not curbing hate speech that led to Capitol Building riots.
However, around 30 percent of Yahoo Finance readers said that Facebook or Meta could redeem itself. One respondent suggested that the company could issue a formal apology for negligence and donate a sizable amount of its profits to a foundation to help reverse its harm.
On the other hand, respondents chose Microsoft as the Company of the Year (2021). The Satya Nadella-led company touched the trillion-mark this year and introduced notable upgrades. The most notable is the Windows 11 OS update that succeeds Windows 10.
Facebook pays 1.7 Cr fine to Russia after failing to delete content Moscow deems illegal
In the latest legal tussle with Russia over controversial social media regulation laws, Facebook paid 17 million roubles (Rs 1.7 Crore) for failing to remove content deemed illegal by Moscow. With a threat of potential larger fines looming, Facebook parent company Meta, owned by Mark Zuckerberg, is scheduled to face court next week over repeated violations of Russian legislation on content, Interfax News Agency reported. As per the latest updates, the social media giant could be fined a percentage of its annual revenue.
In October, Moscow sent state bailiffs to enforce the collection of 17 million roubles. Meanwhile, as per Interfax report citing a federal bailiffs’ database, on Sunday, there were more enforcement proceedings against the company. Apart from the popular social media app, Telegram has also paid 15 million roubles in fines for failing to comply with the Russian social media legislations that came into force in 2016.
Facebook pays $53k to Russia for refusing controversial social media laws
It is pertinent to mention that Facebook has locked horns with Moscow earlier in November, resulting in it paying 4 million roubles ($53,000) over its refusal to adhere to Russian data localisation laws, the Moscow Times reported. The Moscow court on November 25 had said that Facebook paid the fine levied in February, following which all proceedings against the US-based social media giant. The payment comes against the litigation filed against the company in 2018, alongside Twitter. The tech companies were also forced to pay an additional 3000 rubles ($40) for failing to comply with user data sharing rules as per the law. The Russian authorities have also previously blocked LinkedIn, owned by Microsoft, for failing to abide by the laws.
Russian social media laws
As per Moscow Times, under the Russian social media regulation laws, all foreign technology companies are required to store data related to Russian customers and users on servers located in Russia. Additionally, the Russian tech companies will also have to share encryption data with the federal authorities as well as record user calls, messages and civil society group conversation records. The apparatus is said to be a severe breach of privacy rights and unfettered back-door access to personal data that could be used to harass Kremlin critics.
Facebook Messenger Is Launching a Split Payments Feature for Users to Quickly Share Expenses
Meta has announced the arrival of a new Split Payments feature in Facebook Messenger. This feature, as the name suggests, will let you calculate and split expenses with others right from Facebook Messenger. This feature essentially looks to bring an easier method to share the cost of bills and expenses — for example, splitting a dinner bill with friends. Using this new Split Payment feature, Facebook Messenger users will be able to split bills evenly or modify the contribution for each individual, including their own.
The company took to its blog post to announce the new Split Payment feature in Facebook Messenger. 9to5Mac reports that this new bill splitting feature is still in beta and will be exclusive to US users at first. The rollout will begin early next week. As mentioned, it will help users share the cost of bills, expenses, and payments. This feature is especially useful for those who share an apartment and need to split the monthly rent and other expenses with their mates. It could also come handy at a group dinner with many people.
With Split Payments, users can add the number of people the expense needs to be divided with and, by default, the amount entered will be divided in equal parts. A user can also modify each person’s contribution including their own. To use Split Payments, click the Get Started button in a group chat or the Payments Hub in Messenger. Users can modify the contribution in the Split Payments option and send a notification to all the users who need to make payments. After entering a personalised message and confirming your Facebook Pay details, the request will be sent and viewable in the group chat thread.
Once someone has made the payment, you can mark their transaction as ‘completed’. The Split Payment feature will automatically take into account your share as well and calculate the amount owed accordingly.
Tasneem Akolawala is a Senior Reporter for Gadgets 360. Her reporting expertise encompasses smartphones, wearables, apps, social media, and the overall tech industry. She reports out of Mumbai, and also writes about the ups and downs in the Indian telecom sector. Tasneem can be reached on Twitter at @MuteRiot, and leads, tips, and releases can be sent to email@example.com.