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Just a year ago, it seemed like all the big social media companies were facing the same situation when it came to privacy issues. Almost unanimously, they were seen by consumers as playing fast and loose with their data, all in an effort to crank out more and more advertising dollars. But now a select few tech companies – with Apple at the forefront – are now turning privacy into a source of competitive advantage rather than competitive disadvantage. At every turn, they are reminding consumers that they are taking privacy seriously and are even building privacy right into their products and services, rather than making privacy a mere afterthought.
Apple’s new privacy-first strategy
Take, for example, the latest TV commercial from Apple called “Privacy. That’s iPhone.” In years past, Apple might have played up the “cool” or “innovative” features of its phones in an effort to target them to young consumers. Now, however, they are playing up the privacy features of their phones. The TV spot is focused on the theme of over-sharing, and depicts people randomly announcing to whomever will listen some of the most private and intimate details of their lives. The message is clear: other tech brands might “leak” your sensitive personal, financial or health data to the highest bidder, but Apple is taking very real steps to protect the privacy of your personal information
In fact, Apple now refers to privacy as a “fundamental human right” and is taking very public efforts to remind consumers of all the steps it is taking to protect all the data on your Apple devices. That’s especially important now that Apple has moved big into areas like health & wellness, where the loss of privacy could have very big implications for users. At the website www.Apple.com/privacy, it’s possible to see all the ways that Apple is thinking about privacy. Whether it’s the use of Siri, Apple News, Photos or Safari, Apple is taking very specific steps to make sure that what happens on your iPhone stays on your iPhone.
Facebook still playing catch-up
Now, contrast that privacy-first approach to what’s happening at Facebook. While the big tech giant should be applauded for its efforts to give users more control over what data is shown to advertisers, too much of the responsibility still lies with consumers to act proactively. Sure, you might be able to turn off location data sharing, but how many people are really going to go into the settings and fiddle around on Facebook, until they have turned off all the data they want to? Moreover, stories are legion in the media that even when users try to turn off data sharing, information and sensitive data is still being shared with others. In some cases, the Facebook app even appears to be operating in the background when you have other apps open, remotely and furtively suctioning up any extra data it can.
Privacy, iOS 14 and a big hit to Facebook’s ad revenue
Until now, Facebook hasn’t paid a huge price for all of its intrusive behavior. Even a massive $5 billion fine in 2019 was viewed as nothing more than a slap on the wrist for a company that churns out billions of dollars of revenue per quarter. But the latest twist in the privacy saga is that companies like Apple are now tightening the screws on Facebook, and that could lead to a huge hit to Facebook’s bottom line.
In the new upcoming release of iOS 14, for example, Apple is clamping down on the type of data (especially IDFA data about a user’s device) that will be shared with advertisers. Moreover, Apple is making “opt-out” the default choice for users, ensuring that most users will not be sharing any of their data with advertisers and third parties.
That might seem like a small issue, but Facebook has already warned that apps not being able to collect IDFA data could lead to a more than 50 percent decline in its Audience Network advertising revenue. And, since advertising accounts for nearly all of Facebook’s profits, Mark Zuckerberg must be hoping that Apple iPhones fall out of favor with consumers fast. Otherwise, he could be facing a huge hit to revenue, and a lot of displeasure from Wall Street investors.
A wakeup call for social media companies
All of which goes to show that the big social media companies need to be waking up to privacy issues. Failure to do so now could pose a huge financial and legal risk. And, in the case of social media companies that depend almost exclusively on advertising revenue, it could pose an existential risk as well.