By Scott Hamilton
Senior Expert Emerging Technologies
This week marked a high point in a war between technology giants. This is a war that has been going on for a couple of decades. Apple and Facebook have never seen eye to eye when it comes to the Internet and personal freedom. Apple has always felt that user privacy, even at high end-user cost, was more important than free access with limited personal privacy. Facebook, on the other hand, has always believed that free access to both reading and publishing information, even at the cost of personal privacy, is paramount for the future of the Internet.
In Facebook’s view, the Internet is a conglomerate of competing platforms offering innovative services for free, at least monetarily, but you pay by allowing your data to be tracked and packaged so advertisers can target you with advertising that is customized based on your Internet personality.
In Apple’s view, the Internet is just an extension of the personal computing revolution. Apple helped start the Internet in the 1980s, and your phone should be the most personal device of all. You should be notified what companies are going to do with the information collected before you share it.
Apple CEO Tim Cook gave a slap at the business practices of Big Tech rivals during an impassioned speech at a privacy conference in Brussels in October 2018. “Every day, billions of dollars change hands, and countless decisions are made, on the basis of our likes and dislikes, our friends and families, our relationships and conversations. Our wishes and fears, our hopes and dreams,” Cook said. “These scraps of data, each one harmless enough on its own, are carefully assembled, synthesized, traded and sold.”
Earlier this month Apple released updates to the personal privacy policies that blocked not only public Facebook applications from their platform to protect user privacy, but also blocked Facebook internal applications on Apple devices. This action followed shots fired through mass media and print advertising in the prior weeks.
The war of words culminated last week with Facebook’s two-day campaign against Apple. The ad campaign focused on forthcoming changes to the iPhone’s operating system designed to alert user’s when an application attempts to share tracking information with the application vendor. It does not inherently block the information exchange, but alerts the user. Facebook uses this information, like location, search history and browser history, to target advertising and increase advertising revenue.
Facebook claimed that enabling such features by default would crush small businesses that rely on targeted advertising to reach online customers. The most interesting part of this claim is that a majority of these small businesses rely on Google and Facebook to provide the ad targeting platform, which is the multi-billion dollar industry dominated by big tech.
In rebuttal Tim Cook went on public news outlets telling everyone to get off Facebook in any way possible, touting that your privacy is not worth the gains from the platform. He recommends we go back to email, text messaging, phone calls and snail mail to keep in touch with distant friends and family. Our privacy is worth much more than Facebook has to offer.
Obviously both companies are after a share of your money; they are just approaching from different angles. Apple wants business to pay for general advertising on their platform and give you the option of complete privacy at cost. You would be paying for access to applications with money rather than information. Both are very lucrative business models, and who is to be the judge on which is more ethical? It is a decades old argument that may never be settled.
Until next week, stay safe and learn something new.
Scott Hamilton is a Senior Expert in Emerging Technologies at ATOS and can be reached with questions and comments via email to firstname.lastname@example.org.