Why Is Facebook Going All-Out To Stop Apple's iPhone Update? Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg and Apple's Tim Cook are fighting over iPhone privacy rules. At stake is the future of how iPhone user data is used by data brokers and advertisers.

Why Is Facebook Launching An All-Out War On Apple's Upcoming iPhone Update?

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Facebook and Apple are at war. A fight between the tech giants is heating up over how our phone habits are monitored. The outcome could shape the future of online data privacy. NPR's Bobby Allyn reports. And just a note here - both companies are financial supporters of NPR.

BOBBY ALLYN, BYLINE: In the coming weeks, Apple will be sending iPhone users an alert with a question. Are you OK with apps tracking what you're doing and sharing it with other companies? You can say yes, and nothing will change. Or you can opt out. At a recent tech conference, Apple CEO Tim Cook said giving people that option is out of concern for their privacy.


TIM COOK: It seems no piece of information is too private or personal to be surveilled, monetized and aggregated into a 360 degree view of your life.

ALLYN: Nobody knows this better than Facebook, which gets 98% percent of its revenue from advertising. Personalize ads, a big moneymaker, are driven by data tracking on phones. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has for years been defending the data instead of paying business model. Here's Zuckerberg talking in 2018 to Vox, responding to criticism back then from Apple CEO Tim Cook.


MARK ZUCKERBERG: 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.

ALLYN: But Cook says invasively tracking people is indefensible. It's a message that resonates with critics of Silicon Valley worried about so-called surveillance capitalism.

JORDAN FISCHER: We have an application like Facebook that's really driven by collecting data and harnessing the value of that data.

ALLYN: Jordan Fischer is a law professor at Drexel University.

FISCHER: And then we have Apple, which is almost becoming this gatekeeper function for applications and saying, we're going to mandate a certain minimum level of privacy. And they're clashing because they don't necessarily work in the same world.

ALLYN: The stakes for the digital economy are so high that Facebook has launched an all-out campaign to stop Apple. It has taken to radio and TV to say the change will hurt small businesses.


UNIDENTIFIED MUSICAL ARTIST: (Rapping) But many are small businesses that simply lack the tool to find excited people who will stop and say...


ALLYN: Facebook says this ad is about people like Monique Wilsondebriano. She owns the Charleston Gourmet Burger Company in South Carolina. When her business first started, she couldn't afford TV or radio ads but was able to drum up interest on Facebook.

MONIQUE WILSONDEBRIANO: Ninety percent of our customers are finding us because of Facebook, because of those personalized ads. And so if something was to disrupt that, (laughter) you know, it's going to be a problem.

ALLYN: A problem, she says, because it'll be harder to reach current and future customers. Facebook's director of privacy and public policy, Steve Satterfield, says making ads less targeted will make them less useful and generate less money. He says that could force apps to turn to subscription models, where Apple usually takes a 30% cut.

STEVE SATTERFIELD: This discouragement, this is going to have a real impact on the Internet as we know it, which is increasingly going to move to a paid experience, which, again, benefits Apple's bottom line.

ALLYN: Apple denies its move is driven by self-interest. The company says it is giving iPhone owners more control over the data third parties are collecting. Back at the tech conference, Cook didn't save Facebook by name. But in talking about a tech company's business model run amok, his target was clear.


COOK: At a moment of rampant disinformation and conspiracy theories juiced by algorithms, we can no longer turn a blind eye to a theory of technology that says all engagement is good engagement.

ALLYN: Cook was speaking just weeks after the January 6 siege on the Capitol. Many rioters organized on Facebook.

Bobby Allyn, NPR News, San Francisco.


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