Questioning Facebook

Just recently, I raised a question about the application of stakeholder theory to social media, pointing out that a social media business model which relies on selling advertising converts users into suppliers to be squeezed and privileges advertisers as customers.

Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, in a public talk, made a similar point on Data Privacy Day. (Linked here and embedded above).

Two years previously, he had spoken, with real concern, of the “emergence of a data-industrial complex.”

Cook said this year: “The fact is that an interconnected ecosystem of companies and data brokers, of purveyors of fake news and peddlers of division, of trackers and hucksters just looking to make a quick buck, is more present in our lives than it has ever been. And it has never been so clear how it degrades our fundamental right to privacy first and our social fabric by consequence.”

“As I’ve said before, “if we accept as normal and unavoidable that everything in our lives can be aggregated and sold, then we lose so much more than data. We lose the freedom to be human.”

“Together, we must send a universal, humanistic response to those who claim a right to users’ private information about what should not and will not be tolerated.”

Cook then announced that Apple is introducing a product which will give users of social media the power to limit their exploitation as suppliers of personal data. The new product to be introduced this quarter is called App Tracking Transparency or ATT. Cook said: “At its foundation, ATT is about returning control to users — about giving them a say over how their data is handled.”

He then noted that the apps “we use every day contain an average of six trackers. This code often exists to surveil and identify users across apps, watching and recording their behavior…. Right now, users may not know whether the apps they use to pass the time, to check in with their friends or to find a place to eat, may in fact be passing on information about the photos they’ve taken, the people in their contact list or location data that reflects where they eat, sleep or pray.”

He continued: “Technology does not need vast troves of personal data, stitched together across dozens of websites and apps, in order to succeed. Advertising existed and thrived for decades without it. And we’re here today because the path of least resistance is rarely the path of wisdom.”

“If a business is built on misleading users, on data exploitation, on choices that are no choices at all, then it does not deserve our praise. It deserves reform.”

“Call us naive. But we still believe that technology made by people, for people and with people’s well-being in mind, is too valuable a tool to abandon. We still believe that the best measure of technology is the lives it improves.”

In response to Cook, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said on Wednesday that “Apple has every incentive to use their dominant platform position to interfere with how our apps and other apps work.”

To put his complaint in other words, Zuckerberg confirmed that competition provides a public good in restraining the rapaciousness of monopoly niche players like Facebook.

ATT restrictions, if taken up by users, will put users in charge of their relationship with Facebook.

Apple’s ATT fence protecting personal data will cause revenue losses to Facebook in its core business, experts say, as it becomes harder for the company to gather personal data and use it to prove to advertisers that advertising on Facebook increases sales for whatever is so advertised. The flow of data Facebook currently extracts from apps allows it to build profiles of app users. Those profiles are valuable to advertisers in educating them on the conversion rate of their ads into purchases.

Who is more on the side of a moral capitalism – Cook or Zuckerberg?

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