The Apple / Facebook Spat Could Shape the Future of the Internet – Liberal Article
The internet has never been free. There are costs everywhere – websites must buy domain names, servers to store their content, technicians to turn the servers on and off again when things break, developers to make new features, and so on. All of this takes an extraordinary amount of time and money. Most big tech firms make this money through our data.
Facebook is a prime example. Everywhere there is a like button (for example, on this page), Facebook is tracking you. Collecting data about what you like to read (such as the punchy amateur journalism here at POI), what you like to watch, what you browsed on ASOS and so on. Google, which does the same thing, allows you to see some of the information they have pieced together about you. You can see for yourself here.
And this is where Apple’s iOS 14.5 update comes in. Apple has recently rebranded itself not only as the maker of high-cost mobile devices but of secure devices. It is worth bearing in mind that Apple themselves made the tools that most iOS apps use to track you way back in 2012 when they were less conscious about security. Call me a sceptic, but now there is awareness (and more importantly money to be made) Apple seems to have changed their tune.
Apple’s new focus on security and privacy was tested in 2015 and 2016 when the FBI repeatedly tried to make Apple unlock the phone of one of the San Bernardino mass shooters. Apple resisted (at least publicly) with Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO, stating:
“We have a responsibility to protect your data and your privacy […] we will not shrink from this responsibility.”
With iOS 14.5, Apple is once again demonstrating its commitment to their users’ privacy. After updating, when you use an app that wants to track you, you will have to give permission. Without this permission, apps will not be able to track you, at least as easily. This has Facebook worried.
App tracking might seem inconsequential – so what if Facebook knows I have been looking at buying a rubber plant? If anything, it is helpful, because I can see places where I can buy one! The local plant shop makes a sale, and Facebook makes a bit of money for hosting the ad. However, recent studies have shown the worrying influence tech companies can have on changing our behaviour, pointing us towards buying products and services we don’t need or actually want.
But, Facebook is not afraid to point out that without tracking, the ‘free’ internet will be no more. Instead, it will favour (rather ironically) large multi-billion dollar companies over small businesses which Facebook, a multibillion-dollar company, is supposed to support with their targeted advertising. Obviously, this is not good for Facebook’s bottom line or soft power; how many of us would pay to use Instagram, WhatsApp or Facebook? There is more than that at stake. Without being free the internet as we know it would cease to exist, taking all good and bad aspects with it.
Facebook is also not afraid to point out that if we did start having to subscribe to apps, Apple is the one who would benefit. Any subscription made on an iPhone app sends 30% to Apple. This fight is occurring while Epic Games are suing Apple under competition law for not allowing third-party subscriptions in their app store.
Both companies want you to think they are protecting you. Apple is giving you the agency to have some say in what information can be collected and used about you, protecting your privacy. Facebook is trying to keep its services free and accessible, protecting your bank balance and ability to virtually see loved ones during a pandemic. This fight has been brewing for a while, and I am unsure who should or will win.
Written by Junior Liberal Writer, Daniel Jones
Point of Information
Apple would flip the Internet on its Head – A Conservative Response
In this fight, I lean much more towards Facebook’s side than Apple’s. While I do share sympathy with wanting to keep my data private, this is not something people are just discovering now. It has been known for ages that tech companies have been selling people’s data. People have either gotten used to the idea or have moved away from the biggest culprits. But for me, the chance that the internet could turn into a subscription-based service instead of the “free” one it is today is an awful idea.
A subscription-based model would push users away from messenger services. This would be unfortunate because people need them to keep in contact with friends and family. These connections are vital for our mental health and wellbeing, and as such should not be put behind a paywall. A year of intermittent lockdowns has taught people how vital those connections are.
If the price of avoiding a paywall is receiving targeted advertising, I’m sure many people (myself included) could cope with their data being used. While it is rightfully pointed out that nothing on the internet is free, it feels a lot freer when bank balances don’t have to be checked to make a post.
Facebook is not only for keeping up with friends either. Job postings, local businesses and marketing posts would be harder to see and use. Student journalists would find themselves severely impacted by a subscription service. Their posts, pictures, articles and videos would be harder to see, thus making it harder for them to break into the industry. Not only this, but they would have to pay to post them in the first place. When Daniel scoffs at Facebook for being a multi-million dollar company and thus only caring about their bottom line, he forgets all the impacts aside from small businesses a subscription-based service could have.
This fight could have unintended consequences for non-Apple users as well. Android users might also have to pay the subscription service to use basic messenger apps. This is despite the fact they won’t get any choice whether their data is protected or not. Android users also don’t have an in-built messenger service like iMessage. Because of this, they are more reliant on WhatsApp and other apps to communicate (though that’s Google’s fault, not Apple’s or Facebook’s). Furthermore, because Android doesn’t have access to iMessage, users of Android would be cut off from messaging those on Apple devices. Apple doesn’t seem to accept the huge consequences their decision could have on Android users. Unsurprising since they too are a competitor.
While privacy is worth a lot, the things that private companies use data for pale in comparison to the benefits their messaging apps provide. While Apple’s cause is noble and understandable, Facebook is a far more useful app when everyone can use it, and not restricted to those that can pay.
Written by Senior Conservative Writer, Kieran Burt
A Spat of Privacy or Power? – A Labour Response
This definitely isn’t a new debate. Both sides have been arguing between protecting privacy and protecting wider interests for a long time. One instance that stands out to me is the WhatsApp encryption debate following the 2017 Manchester bombing.
On a basic level I have to agree with Daniel’s ‘rubber plant’ analogy; I personally don’t care too much if Facebook knows about my obscure 2am searches and collates data from this. There is of course an issue of changing behaviour and attitudes. How far should governments and companies be allowed to influence behaviour without moral implications? I’m sure that itself sparks many opinions.
Is our data ever really protected though? As soon as we click the power button or log into some form of social media, our data is out in the open. I’m not saying this is the right or wrong approach morally. But our data is going to exist online regardless of a future IOS update. There will always be terms and conditions we skip through and oversharing that can’t be erased.
The Facebook vs Apple debate comes down to two conglomerates seemingly arguing over virtual power under the pretence of protecting interests and privacy. Both companies benefit from the use of technology and both will continue to do so. What is worrying is the concept of charging for internet usage; the only people who will benefit from this are these conglomerates for reasons that both Daniel and Kieran have pointed out.
If you want a final ‘winner’ from me, like Daniel, I’m unsure. And I’m not sure either Apple or Facebook should ‘win’ in this sense. Ultimately, our data will continue to be used as it is currently. I’m sceptical to predict an end of this.
Written by Chief Labour Writer, Abi Clargo