Mark Zuckerberg Is Anxious Apple’s Privateness Adjustments Might Be the Finish of Fb
During Facebook’s earnings call, the company’s founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg spoke about the risk Apple’s upcoming changes to iOS 14 pose to its business. These changes require apps to ask permission before they can track users across apps and across the web.
For Facebook, a company whose entire business model is based on the ability to track users, collect their data, and then sell targeted ads based on all of that information, losing the ability to track users could be a real problem. The thing is, Apple doesn’t stop any app from tracking a user. It just requires apps to ask for permission first. The only way an app can’t track a user is for that user to say “Please don’t track me”.
That seems pretty reasonable. If people don’t want to be tracked online, it makes sense that apps shouldn’t be tracking them. Apple just adds transparency to this interaction and gives users a choice.
Of course, Facebook doesn’t see it that way.
“We see Apple increasingly as one of our biggest competitors,” Zuckerberg told analysts. “Apple has every incentive to use its dominant platform position to affect the way our apps and other apps work, which they do on a regular basis. They say they do this to help people, but the steps are clearly in their competitive interests.”
There is so much that we could open up in this statement, but I want to highlight a few things. First, Zuckerberg is right, Apple is a competitor, but not as it thinks it is. Apple has a messaging product, but it’s not monetized. Apple doesn’t display ads in messages.
Second, if Apple lets users choose how their data is used, what difference does the incentive make? If Apple has the advantage of respecting people’s privacy and giving them a choice of whether and how their data is collected, I’m not sure if this is the brand you think is right.
After all, it’s hard to know how many different ways to put it, but if your business model is threatened by the idea that people have a choice or whether you can pursue them, your problem isn’t Apple. Your problem is your business model.
For small businesses, personalized advertising, which is just Facebook’s nicer way of describing ads based on your browsing history and activity, isn’t a necessity. Small businesses existed long before there was a massive social platform willing to use their money to serve ads to their users.
Sure, the promotional version of Facebook is more efficient and maybe even more effective. But even with Apple’s proposed change, Facebook will still know where you live, how old you are, what your interests are because you are telling all of these things. For most small businesses, nothing will change if they are able to target 25-30 year old women who live within 20 miles of your salon.
I’m also not sure if Facebook is actually concerned about this particular change. The segment of the advertising business that will be directly affected is quite small compared to the overall business. The real problem is that now everyone has a choice whether Facebook should track them, and the company logically assumes that most people will be opting out.
And even if this doesn’t have an immediate impact on the business, it does have an impact on the brand. All of a sudden, people are faced with the reality that Facebook isn’t free at all – it’s just that most people weren’t aware of the cost.
Now you will see a little popup telling you the cost is your personal information. Rather than face this reality and make changes, Facebook has duplicated the narrative that Apple is actually the bad guy here.
So the biggest problem with Facebook isn’t Apple, it’s Mark Zuckerberg.
I know that sounds harsh, but it’s true. Zuckerberg cannot see Facebook as anything but a force for good and a small business advocate. Every decision he makes is to keep evolving the version of Facebook he sees in his head. This version is not real, but is based on its own good intentions. The thing is, we always take the best of our own intentions, even when they are selfish or even dangerous.
The smart move for Zuckerberg and Facebook would be to start with the idea that privacy goes without saying. If you can’t build something to protect that, don’t build it. I don’t mean building things and then trying to find a way to say that it protects privacy. It starts in the wrong position with the wrong motivation. That’s why people don’t trust Facebook.
By the way, Zuckerberg is not alone. Organizations are full of executives who cannot see beyond the picture they have in their own mind of their good intentions.
This is dangerous because it means they can’t see the problems everyone else is seeing. And that means that they will never show the way to a solution. You cannot lead people where you cannot go. That goes for all of us.
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.