Apple gets serious about exploitative surveillance business models, and it’s about time
Six months ago when we first published “Cracks in The Wall: Apple, Google, Amazon and Facebook Silently Declare Wars Against Each Other” we were worried. Although we firmly believed it was a just war, and that the time was at hand for the rotten underbelly of the internet and, more than anything else, for the business model of Facebook to be excoriated out in the open, using the term “war” in conjunction with Apple seemed over-the-top and even inflammatory.
We stuck with the title and now, looking back, it was accurate if not 100% polite. After new privacy features in iOS 14 and macOS Big Sur were made public, Facebook and Zuckerberg took it as an attack on its tracking-first-business model and fought back with some rhetoric about how Apple was going to harm small businesses.
The first feeble attempt at fighting back was a full page ad in the New York Times, the Washington Post, and other outlets, where Facebook alleged: “these changes will be devastating to small businesses” with the supposition that small businesses depend on Facebook’s darling invention; tracking-based advertising, and need it to build their brands and to sell products.
Missing from this self-serving logic is the price of this form of targeting and data collection – in dollars, literally billions of them charged to those same small businesses, and in the cost to virtually all “users” who’s privacy is sacrificed with little to no consumer benefit and many, many potential detriments.
This is not just some sort of scrap between rival companies, it’s all our futures at stake
With the salvo of clear and decisive comments made by Tim Cook at the Computers, Privacy and Data Protection conference, and in interviews with various magazines, the righteous and timely battle against demonstribly evil internet business models is for real now, with the unnamed but obviously targeted Facebook at the top of the list.
The quote from Tim Cook in the title above exactly captured the current reality: the excellent documentary titled ‘The Social Dilemma’ did not go nearly far enough in exposing the danger of surveillance based business models that should not be allowed to exist
As if Facebook has ever been a friend to small business. The concept that has been clear for many years is that the surveillance capitalism, for the most part invented by Facebook, that Apple is now declaring war against, was always an obscene and disastrous one for every person on the planet, other than Mark Zuckerberg.
“If a business is built on misleading users, on data exploitation, on choices that are no choices at all, it does not deserve our praise. It deserves reform,”Apple CEO, Tim Cook, speaking at the Computers, Privacy and Data Protection conference
However, with a vast power over almost all digital advertising (sharing, with Google, more than 70%) and no competition to speak of where anyone could go for “social media” access, 3-5 years ago it was hard to imagine how anything could slowdown, let alone stop, Facebook’s inexorable rise.
In what will be a huge theme for this decade, only giants can fight and hope to win against other giants.
Right now, as of Tim Cook’s declaration of war on the “data-industrial complex” and with numerous anti-trust and other legal actions against Facebook pending, it suddenly seems plausible that a real change, a much needed change, could finally come in the way that human beings communicate via that immense network of devices we call the internet.
“Technology does not need vast troves of personal data, stitched together across dozens of websites and apps, in order to succeed.”— Tim Cook
In an exclusive interview with Michael Grothaus at Fast Company Cook stated: “In terms of privacy—I think it is one of the top issues of the century, we’ve got climate change—that is huge. We’ve got privacy—that is huge. . . . And they should be weighted like that and we should put our deep thinking into that and to decide how can we make these things better and how do we leave something for the next generation that is a lot better than the current situation.” (emphasis mine)
This statement, though perhaps hyperbolic to some, is at the heart of our coverage of Apple, Google, Facebook and “Big Tech” in general over the last few years. In fact, this idea can go further and deeper as… “privacy” is just the tip of the iceberg and the predatory infrastructure that the data-collection and exploitation business model enables is even more dangerous and is a threat to the entire economy.
Of the new “Big 5” (Apple, Musk, Facebook, Google, Amazon) only Apple and the affiliated Elon Musk enterprises actually have proprietary products or products and services that benefit humanity in a concrete way.
Elon Musk has sustainable energy and sustainable transportation as stated goals of Tesla, while SpaceX, has reaching Mars (to give earthlings a second planet available in case we screw this one up) and, now with Starlink, building a second broadband internet backbone in space.
Apple, while on the one hand being inadvertently responsible for both Google and Facebook in different ways (more on that soon in a subsequent post), is at the heart of the real reason why internet business models and structures are key to our survival and to humanity’s ability to survive and reverse global warming by evolving, enhanced communication.
Apple is no longer just an electronic device maker. Software, hardware, A.I., possibly an electric car, and services are all merging and reaching what we call “Apple Singularity”. Apple has the potential to trigger a monumental shift in the ways we communicate online – networked human communication – away from the trash-filled nightmare of the present day – where three obscenely massive companies: Facebook, Google and Amazon, have built business models that do not rest on innovative products or services but on predatory systems that enslave users, gouge small businesses and do very little in adding benefit to humanity as a whole.
“At a moment of rampant disinformation and conspiracy theories juiced by algorithms, we can no longer turn a blind eye to a theory of technology that says all engagement is good engagement — the longer the better — and all with the goal of collecting as much data as possible. It is long past time to stop pretending that this approach doesn’t come with a cost — of polarization, of lost trust and, yes, of violence”Tim Cook
What the three massive deadbeats do is make a small handful of individuals and shareholders very rich. Fortunately, the issues with these business models are finally being questioned. But this is only the beginning.
The unthinkable is now at least possible to imagine: a world where Facebook does not have unlimited power to take, and profit from, our data
Once a real understanding of the degree of inferiority of these models, when measured by the costs vs. the benefit to humanity itself, becomes clearer, the government regulation and involuntary changes forced by the market will begin and quickly accelerate.
It is the combination of the lack of substance or concrete contribution by firms with a predatory business model casing the harm, in ways that are partially invisible, up until now, and make them so dangerous.
The danger is social, political, and in then end affects our economy and the lives of nearly every person who uses the services of those companies. Which is very nearly the entire population.
The economic damage that is being caused by the business models invented by these companies is, much like global warning, so massive that it threatens the entire planet, but the lack of attention we are giving it is based on ignorance of the magnitude of the danger.
Apple and Tim Cook’s perspective is extremely important and key to lighting a spark to ignite fires that will burn away that ignorance. The “big-tech” world that Apple, led by Steve Jobs, had a huge hand in creating, desperately needs a shake up and it needs to start now. This has nothing to do with a handful of huge companies fighting over control of the internet – it’s not about one winning, it’s about further damage being stopped, and a new, better internet being allowed to emerge.
Now, Tim Cook and Apple are beginning a long battle to make that happen on behalf of all of us.
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