Apple has been steadily positioning itself as the anti-Facebook for a while now, and between verbal jabs aimed at the social media giant and privacy-focused product decisions, the patient goodwill campaign seems to be working. Unfortunately, Apple isn’t going to save us, and now’s the time to keep your guard up.
Now that Facebook’s endless cycle of scandals has opened up public awareness of what’s at stake in the battle for online privacy, and political will has, at least slightly, tilted towards doing something about it, Apple has seized an opportunity to remind people how great it is. Its CEO, Tim Cook, hasn’t passed up a single chance to mock Facebook’s troubles. When asked by Recode in April
what he would do to deal with Facebook’s cascade of privacy catastrophes, he snidely replied, “I wouldn’t be in this situation.”
Another choice line from that interview came when he said, “The truth is, we could make a ton of money if we monetized our customer—if our customer was our product. We’ve elected not to do that.” For the last few months, he’s made comments that were directly critical of Facebook’s entire business model on several occasions and even snuck in a thinly-veiled reference to its troubles giving the commencement speech at his alma mater, Duke University, in May. “We reject the excuse that getting the most out of technology means trading away your right to privacy,” he told the graduating students. Then he plugged Apple’s dedication to “collecting as little of your data as possible, being thoughtful and respectful when it’s in our care.” It’s all been the kind of thing that tech nerds quote-tweet with “sick burn” and “shots fired” captions.
Let’s just get the obvious stuff out of the way and acknowledge that multi-billion-dollar companies don’t have fundamental values outside of doing what best benefits their shareholders. There’s no reason to believe Tim Cook lacks his own genuinely held beliefs that are nice and altruistic, but major corporations are more like nation-states today. Properly managed, they’ll last for generations. Leadership changes over the years and new priorities are introduced.
When I say that we should be more attentive to Apple’s privacy moves now, while it’s seemingly doing good things, I don’t mean to imply that there are fundamentally cynical motives at play. … We are all at the mercy of these virtually unaccountable companies making the decision to take advantage of their peers’ bad behavior.
One reason Apple has been relatively good over the years is that it’s a smart company that has stayed in its lane. Another reason is that since the release of the iPhone, it has been rolling in cash. When you’re an embattled company like Facebook or Uber—just trying to kill all your competition in a newly emerging sector—you tend to do a lot of questionable things. For its part, Apple’s managed to duck responsibility for its own problems, like its abhorrent labor abuses and its schemes to avoid paying its fair share of taxes.
In its own deliberate fashion, Apple appears to see a market opportunity in the privacy debate that goes beyond polishing its own image. As headlines blared about Facebook’s latest data-sharing turmoil, the Wall Street Journal reported that Apple has been quietly planning to launch a new advertising network for the past year. It’s said to be a re-imagining of its failed iAd network that was shuttered in 2016. The service was founded to serve ads in apps on iOS in 2010, but advertiser quickly began to complain that it was too expensive and Apple was too demanding with its creative standards. As Facebook and Google pushed forward with cheaper ads that were micro-targeted using personal data, Apple fell behind. Those two companies controlled almost 60 percent of the entire digital ad market in 2017, according to research firm emarketer. It seems that Apple may smell blood in the water and hopes to grab a chunk of the industry.
To be clear, we have no certainty of what Apple’s grand plan is, and in its usual fashion, it’s not telling us. It really might just be feeling out ads and enjoying a moment to get some good PR. But by building methods of circumventing Facebook and other advertisers’ dirty tactics directly into its products, one could imagine that Apple is quietly trying to kneecap competitors as it dips its toes back into the ad market. The company has a clean slate to grow an ad business that isn’t tainted, and it has its core hardware business to pay the bills while Facebook only has advertising.
The Supreme Court is expected to rule on an incredibly important case this month that will set a precedent for how much power law enforcement has when it comes to using our devices for location tracking. If the court ends up deciding that the government has a loophole to follow us around without a warrant just because we’ve all bugged ourselves, we can’t just hope and pray that Apple will build some new feature to protect our rights. We need clear laws regarding security and privacy, and as a society, we need a higher bar for what we expect.
Constant pressure must be applied. The proper reaction when Apple or any other monolithic company does the right thing is not to say thank you, or praise them for being better than the rest, or tweet about the epic dunk they just made on another company’s CEO. Instead, you should say, “It’s about time. Now, what are you doing for me tomorrow? Because this shit’s not good enough.”
Originally published on Gizmodo, read the full article there.