Mark Zuckerberg is Wrong. Apple’s Privacy Stance is Genuine

3 minute read
| Editorial

In light of recent news, like Tim Cook and Mark Zuckerberg throwing shade at each other, I’d like to take a step back and examine both sides of the argument. The argument is: Does Apple actually care about your privacy? Mr. Zuckerberg (and certain Apple critics) would like you to believe that Apple’s privacy stance is just a marketing tactic. I don’t agree.

Tim Cook’s Remarks on Privacy

For several years now, Tim Cook has made allusions to certain companies in Silicon Valley that don’t respect the privacy of users. Reading between the lines, we all know he is referring to Google and Facebook. These two companies have built empires around advertising, the most effective type of which is targeted advertising, and that requires harvesting user data.

For example, in Mr. Cook’s recent interview with Recode‘s Kara Swisher, when asked about Facebook in regards to the Cambridge Analytica scandal, he felt that there should be more regulation when it comes to technology companies, saying:

This certain situation is so dire and has become so large that probably some well-crafted regulation is necessary…The ability of anyone to know what you’ve been browsing about for years, who your contacts are, who their contacts are, things you like and dislike, and every intimate detail of your life — from my own point of view, it shouldn’t exist.

Tim Cook at Auburn University. Tim explained Apple's privacy stance in multiple interviews.

In 2015, when Mr. Cook was honored by the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), he spoke about privacy, security, and peoples’ right to encryption:

I’m speaking to you from Silicon Valley, where some of the most prominent and successful companies have built their businesses by lulling their customers into complacency about their personal information. They’re gobbling up everything they can learn about you and trying to monetize it. We think that’s wrong. And it’s not the kind of company that Apple wants to be.

Mark Zuckerberg’s Remarks on Privacy

In response to Tim Cooks remarks in his 2018 interview, Mr. Zuckerberg fired back:

You know, I find that argument, that if you’re not paying that somehow we can’t care about you, to be extremely glib…And not at all aligned with the truth…If you want to build a service which is not just serving rich people, then you need to have something people can afford…I think it’s important that we don’t all get Stockholm syndrome, and let the companies that work hard to charge you more, convince you that they actually care more about you,” he said. Because that sounds ridiculous to me.

That has been the standard argument in the tech market for years. If you aren’t paying for the product, you are the product. Companies have to make money somehow, and the usual way of making money is to sell your data.

Page 2: Apple’s Privacy History and What Steve Jobs Thought

16 Comments Add a comment

  1. John Kheit

    Nice article Andrew. Agreed. If any one company cares about privacy in tech, it’s apple, and they are pretty lonely in that position.

  2. geoduck

    Absolutely right. As the article says actions speak louder. Apple’s proactive stand against the FBI on implementing a back door is all the evidence I need to believe they are serious about privacy. It cost them points in Washington. It cost them reputation in the eyes of some, uninformed, citizenry. It may have even cost them some sales. But they did it because it was, and is, the right thing to do.

  3. Lee Dronick

    I well understand the privacy risks when using Facebook and am very careful not to use 3rd party Facebook apps, sign into websites with my Facebook account, and don’t join any of their sugggested groups. I do find the service handy for keeping in touch with out-of-area family and friends, making new friends, and such.

    Privacy aside I have issues with their horrid newsfeed algorithm. I often don’t see posts that I would want to see, but see shared crap that Facebook thinks that want to see no matter how many times I have clicked Hide Post.

    Choosing Show Recent should do that, show the most recent posts from my friends. Instead I may see one from a few hours ago then a string from days ago.

    Facebook’s newsfeed is horrid either by design or by sloppy programming, possibly both. Their public image would be greatly improved if they fixed the crap.

    • geoduck

      I just ignore the Facebook “newsfeed”. Even before they got hijacked by trolls in ’16 I knew they couldn’t be trusted.

      • Lee Dronick

        Not the “news” that they link to, but the feed of people on my friends list

      • geoduck

        Ah. Yes that is true. Like a stream of conciseness from someone with multiple personalities.

  4. aardman

    Apple has left money on the table because it didn’t want to compromise on its privacy stance. For one thing, they’ve lagged in AI because they didn’t want to send personal info outside the device and into the cloud for (vastly more powerful) servers to do the heavy AI lifting. With all the information they could have gathered from the highest spending demographic of the tech customer population, they could easily make a killing selling data and ads to advertisers but they turned their back on that lucrative opportunity as well.

    So Tim Cook sounds a little eager to piss on Burg and Berg’s campfire, but at least he didn’t do it with a twinkle in his eye. And even more vindication comes when he announces the hire of Google’s erstwhile AI chief with the lure of “Do what you do but without feeling horrible about contributing further to society’s privacy armageddon. In fact you get the chance to turn the privacy tide back the other way.”

  5. vpndev

    Apple has certainly left huge piles of money on the table because its privacy policies and I am firmly convinced that this was/is absolutely the right decision.

    I watched the Tim Cook discussion this evening (MSNBC/ReCode event) and was quietly bemused by Tim’s response to what he would do if he were Mark Zuckerberg right now. His too-gentle response was that “he would be in that situation”. I would have responded that “I would find a restroom for a change of underwear”.

    Unfortunately for FB, and fortunately for us, it is facing a double-whammy for which it is ill-prepared. Folks there have been “winning” this argument for so long that there is no skill available to seriously address the issue. Now they have not only the US-focussed Cambridge Analytica fiasco but also the EU’s upcoming GDPR clampdown next month. Either one would consume a well-staffed team but they have to deal with both at the same time. It couldn’t have happened to a more deserving company.

    Tim Cook was clearly challenged during some of the back-and-forth with questions, for example, about the fact that the NRA channel (app?) is available and I thought his position was a little awkward (possibly unavoidable) but well grounded. He said that while Apple does indeed curate content, it recognizes that healthy debate is in all our best interests and therefore only things such as “hate speech” and the like will be restricted. So “pretty open” but not “completely open”.

    I thought he missed an opportunity when asked about third-party apps (iOS vs FB) and data collection. As far as I know, if you buy/use an app from the iOS app store, the developer does not know who you are (of course, some request access to “Contacts” and may be able to figure it out).

    The video clip embedded above is very telling. It’s from 2010 and at the start the hosts recognize Mark Zuckerberg in the audience. He didn’t listen and has squandered the eight years since. Karma.

    • Lee Dronick

      I too watched Tim on MSNBC. I have never watched NRA TV, but I will give it a “shot” to see what it is like before commenting on its appropriateness for being on Apple TV. Of course if Apple removed it, an ammosexual could always watch it on Safari.

      • Lee Dronick

        Well I don’t see the NRA Channel on my Apple TV, maybe because I have on older model.

  6. NorthSaanichBC

    Zuckerberg is lashing out in frustration (and hopefully also in embarrassment) at Tim Cook, knowing that he has been exposed again as being unethical and blatantly dishonest.

    He is asking the world to trust him (again) despite his continually being revealed to be deceitful and deceptive, and his constant reluctance to make necessary changes to Facebook to protect user privacy.

  7. wab95

    Andrew:

    First of all, congratulations on a well-written, thoughtful and evidence-supported editorial. This is the kind of high quality thought piece to that has become the stock and trade of TMO, and distinguishes the site from a majority of its competitor tech sites for not being the exception but the norm of its commentary and analyses.

    There is nothing more of substance to add here but a relevant observation.

    This week, Mark Zuckerberg appears before the US Senate and House on Tuesday and Wednesday, respectively, for testimony on not simply the exploitation of FB by Russian agents to influence the US 2016 presidential election, but on a host of issues related to their policies and practices regarding user privacy and security. To be sure, these hearings and discussions far transcend Facebook, but directly relate to Google, Twitter, and the gamut social media players.

    Students of history might appreciate that the implications and transformative influence of some of our most important and pivotal moments in history were not fully appreciated at the time of their occurrence. In that vein, the implications of these hearings on FB extend well beyond the USA to the entire global distribution of FB’s over 2B users, and transcend social media itself to the tech industry writ large, including Apple, whose privacy and security policies are also at the heart of this public discussion, as evidenced by your editorial – in short, the global community.

    Congressional and Parliamentary hearings on these issues are important not simply for lawmakers and regulators, but ideally in democratic societies, for the voting public to achieve consensus on what direction they wish to take, in an informed and consensual manner, by voting in representatives who support policies with which a majority of the voting public agree.

    To be sure, FB has been an equal opportunity offender, and has left soft-target underbelly across the political spectrum for partisans of every stripe to exploit, potentially at the expense of clarity and specificity, never mind accuracy or even truth. Given the fraught and polarised nature of the US electorate, and increasingly by association, other free and democratic societies, I predict an incoherent set of hearings, marked by political partisanship, in which these issues will likely get muddled, as partisans go after issues of greatest perceived interest to their support base and sponsorship. It is more likely than not that the average person will struggle to separate heat from light, and distinguish noise from signal.

    Many, including yours truly, will turn to TMO, amongst other fora, in the coming days for not simply a deep dive, but thoughtful analysis and discussion on some of these key issues, aided by the thoughtful commentary of TMO’s readership. Given that TMO’s readership appear to cover a broad spectrum of thought and political persuasion, this is a perfect forum for such a discussion.

    I recommend that TMO consider devoting not one, but a series of thought pieces, editorials and analyses alike, on the topic of privacy and security, that will arise from these hearings in the coming days. True, TMO have done these before, but this is different if only for the timing. These could assist the community, not simply the normal readership but others by extension, to not only separate noise from signal, but to appreciate the greater complexity inherent in these issues, and the implications that proposed options and solutions mean for the average consumer.

    That might seem like a lot to put on TMO’s shoulders, but this is the price of excellence. To borrow from Spiderman, ‘With great editorials and analyses, come great responsibility’.

    Such a series plays to TMO’s strengths and talent pool, but just in case you’re worried, TMO’s staff can just recite Alan Shepard’s prayer (aka the astronaut’s prayer https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Astronaut%27s%20Prayer), “Please, dear God, don’t let me f*&@ up”, and light this candle.

    • Andrew Orr

      Thanks for your comment, we’ll definitely be looking at opportunities like that in the future.

  8. jhorvatic

    Apple has always taken privacy far more serious than any other company in the World. They did not fight the FBI and the US government for encryption for no reason. Every policy they have privacy is part of it. Other companies like Google it might be marketing hype but not Apple.

  9. aardman

    What Facebook has essentially done is collected information that has given the most nefarious and shady operators such as Cambridge Analytica the ability to Gaslight a whole nation. He keeps saying that FB mishandled the data and allowed the wrong people to get it. No, no, no! That kind of data should never be gathered and stored in the first placed. Much less sold to vendors and ‘researchers’.

    In the same way that subliminal advertising is deemed to be harmful and banning it is not an assault on free speech, prohibiting the gathering of the type of information that makes Gaslighting a whole country possible is also not a violation of our civil liberties.

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