How Tim Cook smashed Facebook — and waged a tech war for years to come

Eleven months ago, Tim Cook sat confidently behind his desk at Apple’s headquarters in Cupertino, California, preparing to give a speech. His speech will be delivered almost as part of World Data Privacy Day in Brussels, but it will be a shot heard around the world.

Screenshot taken live on Facebook.

Shortly before this letter, Facebook had posted full-page ads in several major newspapers attacking changes to Apple’s new privacy policy, also known as Application Tracking Transparency (ATT).

ATT gives Apple users the option to opt out of tracking from apps they don’t want. Facebook claims that these changes have hampered Facebook’s ability to help small businesses reach their target customers.

Interestingly, Cook’s letter did not mention Facebook by name. But the goal was clear.
“Technology doesn’t need huge sets of personal data bundled together across dozens of websites and apps in order to be successful,” Cook stated. “If the business is built on misleading users about data exploitation, and on choices that aren’t choices at all, it doesn’t deserve our praise. It deserves fix.”

He continued, “It cannot turn a social dilemma into a social disaster.”

Apple’s move proved devastating to Facebook. according to financial times, a prominent consultant estimated that Facebook may have lost as much as $8.3 billion in just two quarters as a direct result of Apple’s policy changes.

But was Apple’s move really the beginning of the end of Facebook? After all, Facebook still has billions of users, and it made $29 billion in revenue in 2020.

Interestingly enough, though, Mark Zuckerberg has acknowledged that the future is moving away from Facebook. It’s one of the reasons the company has turned the page on a new chapter, changing its focus from Facebook to Meta, a new parent company that will focus on building for the metaverse, the world of virtual reality.

Zuckerberg shared in his founder’s latest message: “The metaverse is the next frontier in connecting people, just as social networks were when we started.” “Over time, I hope we will be seen as a metaverse, and I want to anchor our work and our identity to what we are building for.”

Undoubtedly, Zuckerberg and his company have been planning this transformation for years. But changes to Apple’s privacy likely speeded up those plans, providing additional impetus and a sense that “the time has come.”

The problem, of course, is that Facebook is Meta, and Meta is Facebook. The same issues that plagued the social media giant will likely carry over into the potential metaverse: a virtual hornet’s nest for privacy and tracking questions, a poor relationship with Apple, and the notoriety that Facebook has built over the years.

The fact that the philosophies of Apple and Meta are completely opposite makes one thing clear: there is a war in technology, and it will continue for years to come.

This also leaves us with great questions:

Will Apple win in its quest to give people a choice for more privacy?

Or is people’s desire to share personal data increasing, as they see it as allowing Meta to build a virtual world more personalized to their tastes?

The answers to these questions will affect the future of the world of technology and every business connected to it.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.

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