May 16, 2021

Facebook and Apple’s PR war seriously heats up

Facebook and Apple’s public brawl over privacy concerns and monopoly power just got even more intense. 

Apple CEO Tim Cook spoke at the European Computers, Privacy and Data Protection conference on Thursday. He seemed to deliver harsh words for Facebook without actually naming Facebook, a true mean girl power move.

“The fact is that an interconnected ecosystem of companies and data brokers, of purveyors of fake news and peddlers of division, of trackers and hucksters just looking to make a quick buck, is more present in our lives than it has ever been,” Cook said. “And it has never been so clear how it degrades our fundamental right to privacy first, and our social fabric by consequence.”

He added, “As I’ve said before, ‘if we accept as normal and unavoidable that everything in our lives can be aggregated and sold, then we lose so much more than data. We lose the freedom to be human.'”

Mashable reached out to Apple to ask if Cook was referring to Facebook specifically, but the company did not immediately respond. 

Cook then touted recent updates in iOS 14.3 that provide more transparency and control over how iPhone apps collect user data. That revealed a comically long laundry list of the ways Facebook tracks you. 

When Apple made the iOS update, Facebook did not take kindly to Apple hanging its dirty laundry out to dry. Facebook took out full-page newspaper ads accusing Apple of hurting small businesses by limiting their ability to make use of Facebook’s advertising tools.

“We lose the freedom to be human.”

Now, it’s reportedly taking its “Apple is anti-business” argument a step further. According to a report published Thursday in The Information, Facebook is preparing an antitrust lawsuit against Apple.

It claims iOS app makers have no choice but to use the App Store — and abide by Apple’s rules and fee structure — in a way that Apple’s own apps don’t have to. Tim Cook said in his speech Thursday that Apple’s apps have to follow the same rules as everyone else.

A Facebook spokesperson wouldn’t confirm reports of the lawsuit, but reiterated the company’s position: “Apple is behaving anti-competitively by using their control of the App Store to benefit their bottom line at the expense of app developers and small businesses.” 

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg also took aim at Apple in the company’s earnings call Wednesday.

“Apple has every incentive to use their dominant platform position to interfere with how our apps and other apps work, which they regularly do to preference their own,” Zuckerberg said. 

Facebook isn’t alone in its criticism of Apple. Epic, the maker of Fortnite, is already suing Apple and Google over the cut they take from app purchases. 

The criticism from both sides is legitimate. It’s also a form of brash finger-pointing with a specific goal. 

Both Facebook and Apple are facing antitrust probes from federal and state governments. Facebook has already been sued, and Apple is under investigation. Considering the impact public opinion could play in how vociferously prosecutors pursue these cases, the public nature of Facebook and Apple’s fight makes it seem like an intentional PR war.  

Essentially, one monopoly is telling another monopoly, “No you’re the most harmful monopoly,” to avoid legal trouble for being a monopoly. Which is, like Facebook and Apple, pretty dang rich.

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