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Clash of the Titans: Facebook and Apple

What happens when titans collide? Well, the best option is to normally just sit back and watch. But what if the collision involves us as well? Do we then pick a side or continue to just watch the battle unfold? Or do we wait for another contender to emerge?

       

This is pretty much the situation most of us are in now when it comes to our data and privacy. As technology continues to allow organisations to make the most out of our data, we have become mere tools for their consumption.

While corporations large or small need our data a lot more than we need them, the reality is, most of us are unable to function without each other today. In the past, businesses did not rely much on ecommerce and social media to understand their consumer habits. Today, any organisation without an online or social media presence will not be making much profit at all.

As consumers ourselves, the availability of platforms like YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp, have allowed us to reach out and be connected to almost anyone, anywhere. And while we think what we do on these platforms are private, not all may seem as it is.

When WhatsApp initially announced they would be making changes to their privacy policy for business purposes, there was a considerable backlash. Users moved to other platforms offering similar services which led to the company eventually delaying planned changes.

Data Privacy Day was celebrated on 28th January 2021. And to mark the occasion, Mark Zuckerberg, CEO and Founder of Facebook, posted a long message on the company’s privacy and policies. He said that privacy principles matter most to people. And he is right. But what he went on saying after that is probably where the titans are irked.

Deciding to have a go at Apple after they announced their updated privacy features, pointed out that, “Apple recently released so-called nutrition labels which focus largely on metadata apps collect rather than the privacy and security of people’s actual messages. But iMessage stores non-end-to-end 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 privacy, Mark said WhatsApp is clearly superior.

In fact, Facebook has been having a feud with Apple primarily over the expected changes to Apple’s iOS14 mobile software. The update is expected to make it harder for Facebook or any social network to track users and show them ads based on their past online activity.

While this is something consumers want, Facebook believes the move will have a huge financial impact on businesses that rely on targeted advertising sales. And of course, the change will also have an effect on the company’s revenue growth.

Interestingly, Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, felt otherwise on businesses that prioritise engagement above all and gather user data to target users with advertising.

In his speech at the European Computers, Privacy and Data Protection Conference, Tim said “technology does not need vast troves of personal data, stitched together across dozens of websites and apps, in order to succeed. 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 was built on misleading users, on data exploitation, on choices that are not choices at all, they do not deserve our praise. It deserves reform.”

Tim did not mention Facebook by name, but it appears that he was clearly referring to the social media company.

Now, the feud and competition between these tech titans has been going on for some time and seems most likely to continue. So where do we as consumers fit in all of this?

According to Kevin Reed, CISO at Acronis, the feud, as well as the potential anti-trust suit by Facebook, is not really about privacy, it is about money. Facebook is the 2nd most successful targeted ads platform, and naturally, they rely heavily on data for better targeting, and Apple’s new policy may hurt them. He added that Google, being the most successful platform and Facebook’s top competitor, is watching how the potential suit develops, but doubt they will join.

“While Apple is taking the right step (and doing it voluntarily, unlike Facebook), apps want to make money – and Apple’s decision to bring more transparency to data tracking may (and likely will, given the current climate) hurt apps' revenue stream. That means, profit model may break for them, and they will either leave AppStore, become paid apps instead of free apps (in which case Apple will get their share), or will search for other ways to collect data,” said Kevin.

As for us users, Kevin believes that while there is a concern about privacy, most of us do not care will continue to use the apps we’re used to. And for those they do, try to not share too many private details and opt for more secure services.

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