Privacy: Apple steps into Facebook’s mayhem
The “brewing cold war” between Apple and Facebook has “turned hot,” said David Ingram in NBCNews.com. The tech giants squared off last week after news broke that since 2016 Facebook had paid users as young as 13 to install a research app that extracted vast amounts of personal data from their phones, including app use, messaging, photos, and Amazon spending. In addition to drawing the wrath of critics who called the move further proof of Facebook’s disregard for privacy rights, the social-media giant ran afoul of Apple, for misusing a program designed to distribute apps for internal use within a company. Calling Facebook’s actions “a clear breach of their agreement,” Apple not only disabled the research tool, it temporarily shut down all internal apps used by the company, sparking chaos as everything at Facebook from beta testing to workers’ access to cafeteria menus went haywire.
“Maybe only Tim Cook can fix Facebook’s privacy problem,” said Kevin Roose in The New York Times. The Apple CEO has publicly rebuked Facebook and Google for their mining of user data, calling privacy “a fundamental human right.” In the absence of other meaningful sanctions, he could now “effectively become a technology regulator of last resort.” Apple took a firm stand in this instance, but if it really wants to defend its users from Facebook’s “appalling” privacy violations, it could go a lot further, starting by removing all of Facebook’s products from the App Store, until Facebook “can prove, in a real and measurable way, that it cares about its users’ privacy.” Sure, it’d be a drastic step. But Apple has banished others for smaller infractions. With repeated demonstrations that Facebook won’t respect users’ privacy unless it’s forced to, “there may be no other option for bringing the company to heel.”
Even if you like what Apple did, said Anne Applebaum in The Washington Post, the showdown illustrates “who is making the rules of our new information network—and it isn’t us.” Regulating how our data is used has come down to a battle between big companies. “We don’t get to decide how information companies collect data, and we don’t get to decide how transparent they should be.” The tech companies themselves make their own rules. We’ve had a similar problem before, when radio became a powerful tool in the hands of dictators, and threatened democracy in the U.S. too. We need the government to step in now, as it did then, and “find the equivalent of licensing and public broadcasting in the world of social media.”
If you’re just interested in reining in Facebook, said Casey Newton in TheVerge.com, Apple’s slap probably feels “like a win.” But if you’re “more interested in competition,” seeing what Apple can unleash “might give you a chill.” This time Apple may have been striking a blow for consumer privacy. Next time, who knows? The more people look to Apple to act as a de facto privacy cop, the more “we may find ourselves uncomfortable with its monopolistic power.” ■