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Cook vs. Zuckerberg: Privacy Gets Personal

As Apple roll out its latest operating system, expect the war between Apple and Facebook to take a personal turn.

The New York Times ran a feature today regarding Tim Cook and Mark Zuckerberg’s personal feud, and we will probably see it play out in courtrooms before too long, as Zuck has already threatened a lawsuit.

It all stems around the new App Tracking Transparency feature, which will require apps that plan on tracking users to ask permission to do so, in order to personalise their advertisements. No doubt, many people will decline this offer to have their data tracked, stored, and used to sell them things.

As Facebook wrote in a statement yesterday: “This will happen through a prompt designed by Apple that discourages people from giving their permission, and provides little detail about what this decision means.”

In his fourth quarter earnings conference call in January, Zuckerberg revealed what he sees as Apple’s duplicitous reasoning for enacting these privacy settings.

“WhatsApp, and the direction that we’re heading in with Messenger, are the best private social apps available,” he said.

“Now we have a lot of competitors who make claims about privacy that are often misleading. Now Apple recently released so-called nutrition labels, which focused largely on metadata that apps collect rather than the privacy and security of people’s actual messages. But iMessage stores non-intending encrypted backups of your messages by default unless you disable iCloud. So Apple and governments have the ability to access most people’s messages. So when it comes to what matters most, protecting people’s messages, I think that WhatsApp is clearly superior.

“Now since I try to use these earnings calls to discuss aspects of business strategy that I think are important for investors to understand, I do want to highlight that we increasingly see Apple as one of our biggest competitors. iMessage is a key linchpin of their ecosystem. It comes pre-installed on every iPhone, and they preference it with private APIs and permissions, which is why iMessage is the most used messaging service in the U.S.

“And now we are also seeing Apple’s business depend more and more on gaining share in apps and services against us and other developers. So Apple has every incentive to use their dominant platform position to interfere with how our apps and other apps work, which they regularly do to preference their own. And this impacts the growth of millions of businesses around the world including with the upcoming iOS 14 changes, many small businesses will no longer be able to reach their customers with targeted ads.

“Now Apple may say that they’re doing this to help people, but the moves clearly track their competitive interests. And I think that this dynamic is important for people to understand because we and others are going to be up against this for the foreseeable future. Now our messaging services continue growing, but it is an uphill battle, and our services just need to be that much better as private social platforms to succeed.”

The following day, Tim Cook spoke at the Computers, Privacy and Data Protection conference, and took aim at Facebook.

“Technology does not need vast troves of personal data, stitched together across dozens of websites and apps, in order to succeed,” Cook said.

“Advertising existed and thrived for decades without it. And we’re here today because the path of least resistance is rarely the path of wisdom. If a business is built on misleading users, on data exploitation, on choices that are no choices at all, then it does not deserve our praise. It deserves reform.”

As Apple roll out iOS14.5 this week, expect the war of words to continue.

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