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Tim Cook told Mark Zuckerberg how to fix Facebook, but Zuckerberg ignored him

Published Apr 26th, 2021 11:35AM EDT
Apple vs. Facebook
Image: Urupong/Adobe

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The day that Facebook and other advertising companies have been dreading is almost here. iOS 14.5 will deliver a massive privacy upgrade, forcing all apps that collect personal data from users to ask for permission first. This is a massive change that is expected to have a significant impact on advertising revenue, according to recent estimates. Given a choice, many people will likely block apps from collecting personal data that advertising companies can use to serve more lucrative personalized ads. Facebook and Google are among the companies that will be directly impacted if a big chunk of iPhone users decides to block user tracking on iPhones and iPads.

But it’s Facebook that has been very vocal in its criticism of Apple’s new iOS 14.5 privacy features. Back in December, Apple released a different iOS 14 update related to user privacy: developers are now required to inform users of the type of data their apps collect. Facebook started an ad campaign against Apple at the time, accusing the iPhone maker of making software that will hurt the open internet and small business.

Although they’re obviously not direct competitors, Facebook and Apple have drifted apart in recent years due in no small part to their disagreement on privacy. A new report gives us a look at the relationship between the two CEOs, Mark Zuckerberg and Tim Cook. Cook apparently gave Zuckerberg a piece of brilliant advice to fix Facebook in the aftermath of the Cambridge Analytica scandal. Zuckerberg was reportedly “stunned,” but he never followed through.

Facebook and Zuckerberg denied the social network was used to sway voters in the months that followed the 2016 US presidential election. Reports had emerged saying that Russia used Facebook ads and viral posts to campaign for Trump. In the years that followed, more evidence was uncovered proving Russia’s involvement. Facebook and Zuckerberg had to admit that the phenomenon was real.

The Cambridge Analytica scandal exploded two years later when it was discovered that the firm had collected personal data from more than 50 million Facebook users. The disclosure revealed that Facebook was collecting the kind of personal data that others could use to target people with certain ads, including political advertisements, and that Facebook made it possible for third parties to abuse that sort of data.

Detailing the Facebook-Apple relationship since the early years of the iPhone, an extensive report from The New York Times brings up an informal meeting between Cook and Zuckerberg.

The two are said to have met informally in July 2019 to repair their relationship, sitting down at a private event for tech and media moguls. The report says that Zuckerberg asked Cook how he would handle the fallout from the Cambridge Analytica controversy. Apple’s CEO answered “acidly” that Facebook should delete any information that it had collected about people outside of its core apps. Facebook collects user data and tracks them via third-party apps and services, a practice that iOS 14.5 might hinder going forward.

Zuckerberg was “stunned,” according to people familiar with the meeting. Cook’s recommendation to stop gathering information meant that Cook believed Facebook’s business was untenable. Zuckerberg ignored Cook’s advice, the report notes, but that’s not a surprise to anyone familiar with Facebook’s operations. Facebook hasn’t changed its stance on user data collection and monetization at any point since in the past few years, even though the company has made it easier for users to prevent some data collection.

The full NYT report is available at this link.

Chris Smith Senior Writer

Chris Smith has been covering consumer electronics ever since the iPhone revolutionized the industry in 2008. When he’s not writing about the most recent tech news for BGR, he brings his entertainment expertise to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and other blockbuster franchises.

Outside of work, you’ll catch him streaming almost every new movie and TV show release as soon as it's available.