Invasion of Privacy

Isabella Diez, Director of Operations

It has become obvious that the war on privacy is encroaching upon the digital space. Currently, two big tech companies are in conflict regarding the issue of privacy, each having differing stances on user and digital privacy.

Apple has announced that later this year the new iOS 14 operating system update will be asking users for permission to access all apps to track activity. Users will receive a pop-up that will ask for consent to track their activity and data. Apple states that the aim is to help people and give users control over their own data as well as increase transparency as to what data is being collected. 

The announcement of these new changes by Apple was received with hostility by Facebook. Facebook indicated that this action would threaten $86 billion of annual revenue generated through targeted ads. In response, Facebook ran full-page ads in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and The Washington Post stating that this change will only hurt consumers and small businesses. It was subsequently rumoured, through a source familiar with the company, that Facebook was planning to file an antitrust lawsuit against Apple.

Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, countered Facebook’s argument at a Computers, Privacy, & Data Protection Conference stating, “if a business is built on misleading users, on data exploitation, on choices that are not choices at all, then it doesn’t deserve our praise, it deserves reform.” He also said that many social companies are the cause of spreading threatening information for the sole purpose of user engagement. 

Facebook has had its conflicts with user privacy in the past. In 2018, the company was involved in a scandal with Cambridge Analystica, a UK political consulting firm that collected the data of over 87 million users without their knowledge or permission. This harmed Facebook’s reputation and brought attention to the dangers surrounding user privacy. 

Mark Zuckerberg defended Facebook’s business model, explaining that the targeted ads allow for the site to be accessible and free to its users. He also stated that this change will hurt small businesses which are anticipated to see a cut of over 60% of website sales as a result of ads.

Various other social networks have expressed their thoughts on Apple’s changes. Snapchat has indicated their support towards Apple, but the CFO, Derek Anderson, is concerned that this will “present a risk of interruption to demand” regarding advertising. During its quarterly shareholder letter, Twitter expressed how this change could have a significant impact on the company but did not include any additional information.

In the past, Facebook and Apple have had a mutually beneficial relationship.  Both have gained from the releases of the others’. Apple needs Facebook’s social networks to be available on their devices and Facebook requires Apple to host their networks on. But in recent years, this relationship has begun to sour. 

Following the Cambridge Analytica scandal, Cook was asked what he would do if he were in Facebook’s situation, to which he answered, “I wouldn’t be in this situation.” Zuckerberg immediately responded to this comment stating that Apple products were made for “rich people.” Apple then struck back by showing users how to limit the time they can spend on apps, implying that users could limit their use of social networks such as Facebook and Instagram. 

The disputes between Apple and Facebook have remained at bay since both companies are not direct competitors. But this may change as Apple and Facebook are each planning to release virtual and augmented headsets in addition to potential future competition regarding various home devices. 

The clashes between Facebook and Apple are highlighting some important issues concerning digital privacy, leaving us with the question: is privacy a right or a privilege?

Photo by Caspar Camille Rubin, Unsplash

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