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Facebook is about to take its war with Apple to a whole new level

Published Jan 28th, 2021 7:27PM EST
Facebook vs Apple
Image: Stefani Reynolds - CNP/MEGA

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  • The Facebook vs. Apple cold war might get hot pretty soon if reports that Facebook is about to sue Apple over the iPhone maker’s new iOS 14 software are to be believed.
  • A forthcoming Apple software update will make it easier for iPhone users to stop apps like Facebook from tracking them around the web.
  • Facebook is reportedly planning to sue Apple over this and over App Store rules that the social network says disadvantage Apple rivals.

The Facebook vs Apple spat over data privacy that’s been simmering for years might end up in a courtroom soon.

Both companies’ CEOs this week have continued taking swipes at the other, as they’ve been doing for months now, over their competing approaches to privacy and user tracking. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, for example, told analysts during the social network’s latest quarterly earnings presentation this week that Apple’s whole philosophy around privacy is not as virtuous as it sounds — that it’s really just about helping Apple’s business. “Apple may say they’re doing this to help people, but the moves clearly track with their competitive interests,” Zuckerberg said during the company’s earnings call. Apple CEO Tim Cook, meanwhile, eviscerated Facebook’s approach to privacy in a speech Thursday as part of the EU’s Computers, Privacy and Data Protection conference, without even calling out Facebook by name.

“At a moment of rampant disinformation and conspiracy theories juiced by algorithms,” Cook said, according to a copy of his prepared remarks that Apple sent to BGR, “we can no longer turn a blind eye to a theory of technology that says all engagement is good engagement — the longer the better — and all with the goal of collecting as much data as possible.

“Too many are still asking the question, ‘How much can we get away with?’ When they need to be asking, ‘What are the consequences?’ What are the consequences of prioritizing conspiracy theories and violent incitement simply because of their high rates of engagement? What are the consequences of not just tolerating, but rewarding content that undermines public trust in life-saving vaccinations?”

Tim Cook speakingImage source: Apple

It’s long past time, Cook continued, for companies to quit pretending that choosing the above options doesn’t come at a cost, with that cost encompassing everything from more polarization to even some degree of violence.

“At Apple, we made our choice a long time ago,” Cook said.

Facebook hasn’t taken this lying down. Last month, Facebook ironically took out full-page newspaper ads to blast Apple. Ironic, in the sense that you could argue the social media giant has done more than most companies to try to kill the news business, and now it was relying on said news business to defend itself. The newspaper ads took the iPhone maker to task for new privacy features in iOS 14 that Facebook thinks might cripple its lucrative ad business — which, among other things, tracks users around the web.

On Thursday, Apple said it was speeding up the implementation of these changes, which take effect in the spring. The changes will give users more ability to limit the power of apps like Facebook to track them around the web. Facebook, meanwhile, is reportedly preparing a lawsuit over this, one that will accuse Apple of abusing its market position to hobble the social network.

Per a report from The Information, Facebook’s suit will take aim at Apple’s App Store rules that Facebook will try to claim put competitors at a disadvantage. “As we have said repeatedly, we believe 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 spokesperson Ashley Zandy told NBC News, when asked for comment on the lawsuit.

Along these same lines, Apple continued its messaging war on Thursday by releasing “A Day in the Life of Your Data,” a new report that Apple says shows how companies like Facebook track users across websites and apps. The iPhone maker also shared a reminder that with Apple’s next beta update, “App Tracking Transparency” will require apps to get the user’s permission before tracking their data across apps or websites owned by other companies.

Under Settings, iPhone users will be able to see which apps have requested permission to track them, and the users will be able to make whatever changes they want right there. This requirement, according to Apple, “will roll out broadly” in early spring with an upcoming release of iOS 14, iPadOS 14, and tvOS 14.

“We believe that ethical technology is technology that works for you,” Cook continued in his speech. “It’s technology that helps you sleep, not keeps you up … And that all of this, always, puts privacy and security first, because no one needs to trade away the rights of their users to deliver a great product.”

Andy Meek Trending News Editor

Andy Meek is a reporter based in Memphis who has covered media, entertainment, and culture for over 20 years. His work has appeared in outlets including The Guardian, Forbes, and The Financial Times, and he’s written for BGR since 2015. Andy's coverage includes technology and entertainment, and he has a particular interest in all things streaming.

Over the years, he’s interviewed legendary figures in entertainment and tech that range from Stan Lee to John McAfee, Peter Thiel, and Reed Hastings.