Nobody could forget the day that Apple pulled the plug on Facebook. On a January morning in 2019, the social network’s then 35,000 employees woke up to discover that everything involving an iPhone was broken: their calendars, their maps of the company campus, their internal social networks and even their food hall menus. Meetings were cancelled because people couldn’t catch the campus shuttle busses, while work on any iPhone apps slammed to a halt as the test versions failed to boot up.
It could have been a cyberattack; in fact, it was a show of force. Apple, incensed by the revelation that Facebook had exploited its workplace software scheme to spy on the habits of iPhone users as young as 13, had revoked the credentials that allowed Facebook’s internal iPhone apps to function the previous evening. And so, amid that chaos, perhaps sitting in the glass-walled office that employees call “the fishbowl”, what must Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg have been thinking?
That jolt may help explain the caustic PR warfare that has erupted between the two companies. Over the past six months Facebook has become Apple’s chief antagonist, airing its gripes with investors, the media, its own employees and even the regulators writing the rules that will govern digital services for the next decade.
That is despite the companies not being traditional rivals: Apple sells hardware and runs subscription services; Facebook gets 98 per cent of its income through advertising.
“[Apple has] this unique stranglehold as a gatekeeper on what gets on phones,” Zuckerberg told his workers in August, adding that it “blocks innovation, blocks competition” and charges “monopoly rents”. His chief lieutenant Sheryl Sandberg and head of the Facebook app Fidji Simo likewise slammed the smartphone maker. The latter labelled its 30 per cent app fee as the “App Store tax” – confrontational language previously confined to Apple’s more bellicose critics, such as Fortnite maker Epic Games.
Behind the scenes, Zuckerberg has reportedly lobbied US officials to scrutinise Apple more strictly. In July, he told a congressional panel that Facebook’s competitors include “gatekeepers with the power to decide if we can even release our apps in their app stores”. And in Europe, responding in September to an EU consultation on the Digital Services Act, a major overhaul of internet laws currently being put together in Brussels, Facebook mentioned Apple 17 times, compared to eight Googles, two Twitters and just one TikTok. It said that Apple imposes “unfair contractual terms and unfair practices”, and accused the iPhone maker of “privileg[ing] its own services and revenue streams to the detriment of others”.
Apple has chosen to not directly respond to Facebook’s snipes, and it is easy to believe this is a mere PR tactic by Facebook, a distraction from its numerous political crises. Yet a feud had been smouldering since 2017, when Zuckerberg felt personally slighted by a graduation speech by Apple boss Tim Cook urging students not to measure their worth with likes.
By 2018, Cook was using the Cambridge Analytica scandal as a cudgel and later, when Apple announced a Screen Time feature designed to combat smartphone addiction, it illustrated it with screenshots of Facebook and Twitter.
The root of the conflict runs deeper still. Facebook has often struggled with the depth of its dependence on smartphone operating systems run by Apple and Google. Most recently, Apple has flexed those muscles by trying to extract its 30 per cent fee from sole traders using Facebook’s new paid events service, as well as rejecting important features of Facebook’s new gaming app. But the skirmishing began in 2009, when the team behind Facebook’s first mobile app butted up against Apple’s sentinels.
“All of this has been brewing for more than a decade,” says David Barnard, an iPhone app maker and developer liaison at the mobile subscription services provider RevenueCat. “Businesses big and small know how much sway Apple has over their financial future… because of [Apple’s] incessant desire for absolute control of the platform.”
According to Phillip Shoemaker, Apple’s former head of app review, Facebook’s app would always go through rigorous scrutiny whenever a new version was submitted to the iPhone’s App Store.
Messaging is one place where the two companies do compete directly. The rivalry between Facebook’s Messenger and WhatsApp on the one hand and Apple’s default iMessage texting app on the other has been dubbed the “messaging wars”.
Today the most pressing issue is Apple’s proposed advertising crackdown, which would force companies to get explicit permission, via a stark pop-up message, to track them between apps.
Such tracking is the backbone of Facebook’s mobile audience network, which lets apps host adverts, targeted using Facebook’s data. The company has warned that the impact on its revenue could be sharp, and said it might shut down the audience network. “Facebook and everyone else feels more emboldened to speak out in public, in part because any retribution that Apple takes can now be used in lawsuits,” says Barnard. Ultimately, though, there is also a deeper reason for the two firms to be such enemies. According to journalist Steven Levy’s book Facebook: The Inside Story, Zuckerberg has been intrigued since Facebook’s early days by the idea of building a “social operating system”.
Zuckerberg frequently refers to his multibillion-dollar bets on virtual and augmented reality as “building the next computing platform”. His belief that headsets, wristbands and even mind-reading interfaces might one day replace the smartphone appears to be deadly sincere. If he’s right, Facebook might have a chance to finally be its own gatekeeper. But it just so happens that Apple too is reportedly building an AR headset.
Source: Thanks smh.com