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In the technology world, it’s not uncommon to hear about feuds between industry rivals or between industry standards. But those feuds are typically about market power and market share, not about fundamentally different approaches to technology. So that’s why it matters so much that Apple and Facebook are now locked in an epic feud – they are not head-to-head competitors, and are not even in the same business. Apple primarily makes hardware, while Facebook is a social networking platform. However, Apple is now calling out Facebook for its approach to doing business, and it’s about to get really nasty.
The gloves come off
At a speech in Brussels for International Data Privacy Day, Apple CEO Tim Cook shook up the tech world by taking aim at Facebook, even if he didn’t mention Mark Zuckerberg or his company by name. Everyone knew exactly whom he was talking about when he mentioned millennial users being the victim of “data exploitation.” And everyone grasped the notion that Facebook was coming under fire when Cook criticized what he called a “theory of technology” that says that “all engagement is good engagement, the longer the better, and all with the goal of collecting data.”
But that wasn’t all. In his prepared remarks, Cook appeared to level blame at Facebook for violence in the real world spurred by misinformation, disinformation and conspiracy theories. The more that Facebook hangs onto the notion that “all engagement is good engagement,” the wider the chasm becomes between “ethical” and “unethical” uses of technology. As Cook pointed out, the standard operating procedure at Facebook seems to be: “How much can we get away with?” At some point, Cook warned, the current “social dilemma” could become a “social catastrophe.” Ouch.
Two competing philosophies
From Cook’s perspective, of course, Apple is engaged in the “ethical” use of technology. That means engineering products with privacy built right into them from the start and taking every possible step to keep companies like Facebook from scooping up data from these products without the consent of the user. In contrast, Facebook is engaged in the “unethical” use of technology. In the interest of bringing in more advertisers and making more money from advertising, Facebook is willing to do anything it can to get its hands on more user data and then sell it.
But is this really necessary? Cook again took aim at Facebook, suggesting that “advertising has existed and thrived for decades” without data being collected in “non-transparent ways.” In other words, something is very broken in today’s social media world. At some point, the end consumer (people like you and me) became the “product.” We are the ones being bought and sold on a daily basis. Not physically, of course. But our data and personal information is constantly being acquired, packaged up and sold to the highest bidder.
Who will win?
At this point, of course, it looks like Apple has the upper hand. If given a choice right now, most people would rather abandon Facebook than give up their iPhone or iPad. And most people are now waking up to the idea that the social media tech giants have been abusing our data and personal privacy for years, all in the name of making a profit. So, in that regard, Tim Cook and Apple deserve a lot of credit. They are taking on a huge juggernaut of a company and forcing Facebook to come to grips that it has become a “data business” rather than a social media business. With that comes greater responsibility and the overwhelming need for a new business philosophy – not just a new business model.