Two of the most powerful men in not only Silicon Valley but also perhaps in the world are at odds. The relationship between Tim Cook ( Apple Inc.'s CEO) & Mark Zuckerberg (the CEO & Founder of Facebook) hasn't ever been as cordial as the one between Steve Jobs, Apple's co-founder & former CEO, & Zuckerberg but this is a new low.
So what was the final nail in the coffin? Apple's latest iOS update will ask users if they wish for apps to track their activity on other apps, search history, etc. This will be the first time users will have the option to opt-out of the cross-platform tracking many of them didn't even realise was occurring. In recent years, digital privacy has become increasingly important to Apple & they've even deemed it as a fundamental human right. As delightful as it sounds, it's not good news for Facebook.
Social media can't be discussed without at least one of the several multi-billion dollar apps owned by Facebook being mentioned. Its presence on our phones is overwhelming. You most likely learned about this article from my Instagram; you texted a loved one or co-worker/teacher on WhatsApp today; maybe you even commented on a friend's Facebook post. Walls don't have ears & eyes but Facebook probably does. This ubiquity is one of the key factors for its valuation of over $70 billion dollars. But beyond the cute Indie-inspired filter you just used lies an ugly truth - your apps are essentially stalking you. "Stalking" is a strong term but app-monitoring is sometimes necessary. Instagram observes the kind of posts you like, save, share in order to show you similar ones in hopes that you'd like them & want to keep using the app. What's concerning, however, is what these apps can do when they're not open. They have the power & the ability to go through your browser history & view the locations you've been to in order to promote ads that might be relevant to you so that they get clicks. Therefore, if you notice that you've been seeing many ads from hotel chains all over your Facebook page after searching for flight prices, always remember that it's not a coincidence. These advertisements are specifically targeted towards you. They're literally called 'targeted ads' & Facebook makes lots of money from them. Lots. It's a huge part of their business but it poses a serious ethical question of paramount importance: should collecting a user's data without their knowledge (i.e. stealing) be allowed? Well, I'm no philosopher but I think of it to be unacceptable. Users deserve utmost transparency regarding what happens to the information they unwillingly & unknowingly share on online platforms. But Facebook doesn't believe transparency to be the reason for Apple's move.
Credit where credit is due, I think that I must mention that Facebook now allows you to control what they do with your data albeit they don't have the best track of protecting user's information. You can open Ad Settings on the Facebook website & instead of going through all of them, you can turn the setting off. This gives you some form of control over the app's activity. Also, the data you might've entered under Your Information can give you a brief overview of the kind of ads that are being directed towards you. Facebook, which faces the potential of losing around 8 billion dollars if most users refuse to have their data tracked, claims that Apple wants to take absolute control over the smartphone/laptop industry & this move is, well, greedy. It's no secret that the price of iPhones has skyrocketed along with their demand. Do you remember when we used to joke about shelling out hundreds of thousands of rupees/thousands of dollars for a new iPhone? But we don't hesitate once when purchasing a new Apple device today & this is partly due to extremely successful advertising & brand image. This spike in prices is referred to as the "Apple tax" - it's a premium we pay for the better & now securer internet experience. It goes into Apple's pockets & Cook wants to keep it that way. After all, we expect superior performance at higher prices and for the most part, Apple delivers. Facebook sternly disagrees.
Of course, Facebook's unfortunate history with data leaks must be discussed. The Cambridge Analytica scandal was just the icing on the cake. If you don't know what I'm talking about, Cambridge Analytica is a British political consulting firm that worked with the Trump campaign (2016 elections) and managed to obtain the data of 87 million Facebook users. None other than Steve Banon, former executive chairman of Breitbart (a far-right news website) & former senior adviser President Trump, was CA's Vice President. This historical tech disaster started in 2016 when Cambridge Analytica's CEO, Alexander Nix, contacted WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange about the emails that were hacked from the Democratic National Committee’s servers but the man behind the data leak is a Russian-American University of Cambridge employee, Aleksander Kogan.
Kogan's brainchild was a simple Facebook quiz. The 270,000 people who took the quiz ended up giving Kogan the keys to the lives of 87 million people all because of loopholes in Facebook's API. The situation severely hurt Cambridge Analytica & Facebook. Even though you may not agree with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's politics, I highly encourage giving her interrogation of Zuckerberg a watch:
Tim Cook's response to the breach took Zuckerberg by surprise. Facebook's CEO didn't fancy the idea of deleting the affected users' information & thus began the beginning of the end. Cook's reasoning that Facebook needs regulation during an MSNBC interview fuelled the flames of war in Zuckerberg's mind. You wouldn't feel good either if Cook respond with "I wouldn't be in that situation" after being asked about what he'd do if his company faced a similar crisis. But this cold relationship dates back to around a decade ago when Cook was second-in-charge at Apple & Zuckerberg was a Harvard dropout with a hot business. Some say Cook found Zuckerberg's 'my way or the highway' attitude arrogant. The relationship has had its moments but this tech mogul war is beginning to spin out of control. Both sides are calling each other thieves albeit this smear campaign is nothing new. Back in 2017, a Facebook-funded company published an article that hinted at a possible bid for the presidency by Tim Cook in order to strain his relationship with then-President Trump. It was unsuccessful but who knows what the two will do next? Don't expect a Disney-like happy ever after or one succumbing to another's demands. Never in Silicon Valley.
by Rayansh Singh