By Jon Swartz
Apple Inc. debuted a national advertising campaign on data privacy last week, a day after Facebook parent company Meta Platforms Inc. shared a quarterly update on how it has ratcheted up security for its members.
Admittedly, not headline-screaming stuff for two companies that relentlessly discuss privacy and security. But there is an underlying message to the two companies’ dueling news: Each is escalating rhetoric in a yearslong feud with each other over how they handle data for billions of people. The acrimony is sure to spiral in the coming months and years, as they pursue the metaverse and augmented reality, tech observers told MarketWatch.
Apple /zigman2/quotes/202934861/composite AAPL +2.45% and Facebook have adopted polar opposite business models. Meta relies almost entirely on selling targeted ads based on a tranche of data supplied by its more than 3 billion members who joined Facebook for free. Apple, conversely, charges large premiums on its devices and offers services that are largely devoid of ads. While Facebook thrives, and suffers, from endless user-generated content with spotty moderation, Apple maintains an iron grip on what gets into its ecosystem. This allows the iPhone maker to command a steep percentage of any money that flows to the developers it allows inside the App Store.
“Facebook sees the metaverse as an opportunity to escape Apple’s walled garden (proprietary ecosystem) and create its own platform free of the App Store,” Mike Herrick, senior vice president of technology at app-experience platform Airship, told MarketWatch.
The message is inescapable in Silicon Valley. On highway U.S. 101, near Palo Alto, Calif., two billboards within 100 feet summarize the antagonisms: One positions iPhone as the privacy-first phone, the other from Meta preaches the benefits of end-to-end encryption.
The companies’ two chief executives, Apple’s Tim Cook and Meta’s Mark Zuckerberg, have lambasted one another repeatedly in recent years in the run-up to competing augmented-reality headsets expected in the next year, with last week’s moves the latest incident.
Apple’s 90-second “Your Data Is Being $old” TV spot , which debuted May 18, disparages data brokers hellbent on auctioning the most confidential information of consumers, but it could also apply to Facebook and Alphabet Inc.’s Google /zigman2/quotes/202490156/composite GOOGL +5.11% /zigman2/quotes/205453964/composite GOOG +5.19% , both of whom depend heavily on collecting personalized data to sell targeted advertising.
“The part that says it all [in the ad] is where the data broker says, ‘It’s not creepy, it’s commerce,”’ Mike Herrick, senior vice president of technology at app-experience platform Airship, told MarketWatch.
And as both companies vie for dominance in the emerging, data-rich metaverse, he expects more of the same messaging.
“Everybody needs a phone, and data security remains an important factor,” Herrick said.
“Data is not confined to one boundary,” adds Balaji Ganesan, CEO of Privacera. ”Data is like ink on water. It spreads. It is not something you can easily contain.”
The introduction of the ad campaign came a day after Meta’s latest quarterly integrity report, a status report on its efforts to moderate content that revealed some serious kinks in the management of mountains of data. While Facebook continues to make inroads, it did disclose a “bug” in its media-matching technology that led to legitimate content mistakenly flagged as terrorism and organized hate and being pulled in the first three months of this year. Meta said it resolved the issue and restored the posts.
One issue that seemingly has not been resolved is Facebook’s inability to remove terrorism content before it goes viral. A live-streamed video posted on Twitch from the white gunman accused of killing 10 Black people in a Buffalo grocery store spread on Facebook and Twitter Inc. /zigman2/quotes/203180645/composite TWTR +1.89% for days after the tragedy. One copy on Facebook was shared more than 46,000 times for more than 10 hours before Facebook removed it, according to The Washington Post .
Meta’s muff underscores the pitfalls of monitoring data in the information age, a danger that Apple has exploited to its marketing and business advantage. Channeling the words of company co-founder Steve Jobs, Apple in recent years has made privacy a defining fulcrum of its DNA while at the same time wielding it like a marketing weapon in blistering attacks on what CEO Tim Cook calls a “data industrial complex” that includes Facebook and Google.
Both of those companies derive a lion’s share of their revenue via advertising, prompting Apple to adopt a feature, App Tracking Transparency (ATT), that lets consumers easily stop any app or service from building a significant data profile based on the user’s device and web usage. ATT could cost Meta approximately $10 billion this year, Meta Chief Financial Officer David Wehner revealed earlier this year during an earnings conference call.
All battle lines lead to platform control
Apple’s defensive posture is based on its full-throated embrace of a walled garden, Sophie Stalla-Bourdillon, senior privacy counsel and legal engineer at Immuta, told MarketWatch.