Vanity Fair Explains Why Masters of the Universe Tim Cook of Apple and Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook Are Squabbling

Mark Zuckerberg
The Associated Press

Vanity Fair published an article recently titled “‘Burn the Boats’: What Mark Zuckerberg and Tim Cook Are Really Beefing About” which aims to explain the current battle between the CEO’s of Facebook and Apple.

The article published in Vanity Fair discusses the recent fight between Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Apple CEO Tim Cook. The war of words began when Cook was asked about Facebook’s most recent user data scandal, Cook replied that he “wouldn’t be in this situation” if he were Zuckerberg. The Vanity Fair article states:

First, after years of rejecting the notion that Facebook, with its troves of sensitive data, needed to be regulated, Zuckerberg publicly expressed openness to the concept. (Sheryl Sandberg, his chief operating officer, would soon enough put it even more convincingly, theorizing “It’s not a question of if regulation, it’s a question of what type.”) A few days later, Apple C.E.O. Tim Cook swiped at Facebook about this very topic, essentially telling Kara Swisher that Facebook’s use of its data was unethical. When asked what he would do in Zuckerberg’s situation, Cook turned the question around. “I wouldn’t be in this situation,” he said.

On a superficial level, it might seem like the hegemons who rule Silicon Valley have had a recent change of heart—that Apple and Facebook have stopped their cold war for the attention of humanity and begun truly looking out for their customers. And indeed, Zuckerberg presumably wants to do the right thing, and signal to his 2.25 billion global consumers, and the advertisers that covet them, that Facebook can be a trustworthy platform. But some people deeply entrenched in the Valley are beginning to wonder if some Vulcan chess moves are taking place beneath the surface. Regulation, after all, might actually be a good business move for Zuckerberg. Facebook was able to grow so big and so quickly, one tech insider said to me, precisely on account of the absence of regulation online during the past decade. If the government created rules around data collection and targeted advertising right now, it’s unlikely that any start-up could grow as large and quickly as Facebook did. It’s a “burn the boats” strategy, another insider told me, and it’s an incredibly clever one at that.

The article further describes how the relationship between Apple and Facebook began to turn south after Facebook made moves to compete with Apple in the digital landscape:

There may be an ulterior motive to Cook’s talk, too. In the early days of the iPad and iPhone, Facebook and Apple needed each other. Facebook knew that its mobile apps were going to lead to huge growth on its platform (with over 1.4 million daily active-mobile users, it’s clear that they were right) and Apple wanted to ensure that it had the incredible Facebook products on iOS, its operating system, to entice people to purchase iPhones rather Google’s Android devices. Then a couple of years ago, the relationship began to sour. Behind the scenes, insiders tell me, this was partly because Facebook began exploring building its own App Store, with games and third-party apps, which would likely eat into Apple’s revenues. (Apple currently makes $11.5 billion a year through the app store.) This put Apple in a difficult situation. It couldn’t kick Facebook off iOS, since doing so would drive millions of people into the affectionately waiting arms of Android. Instead, the dust-up merely presaged a looming battle in the future, and resentment between two companies with a combined value of more than a trillion dollars.

These days, that battle is coming into a more full view. Facebook has been working on a speaker for your home that is very similar to Apple’s HomePod. (The device has reportedly been delayed after the latest round of privacy woes.) Facebook, which famously purchased Oculus Rift for $2 billion in 2014, is working fastidiously on augmented reality and virtual reality. Apple has filed dozens of patentsaround V.R. and A.R. headsets and Cook said last year that he believes augmented reality is the future of Apple’s business.

Zuckerberg replied to Cook’s comments about Facebook which were “Apple sells products to people, Facebook sells people to advertisers.”

Zuckerberg, who isn’t one to back down from a fight, shot back by telling Vox’s Ezra Klein, “You know, I find that argument, that if you’re not paying that somehow we can’t care about you, to be extremely glib and not at all aligned with the truth.” The “reality,” Zuckerberg explained, “is that if you want to build a service that helps connect everyone in the world”—as opposed to a company that is “just serving rich people”—then advertising is a necessary evil. But while Zuckerberg does have valid points, they seem less high-minded in light of a memo that leaked to BuzzFeed last week from Andrew “Boz” Bosworth, a vice president at Facebook who currently leads its hardware efforts. In the memo, Boz argued that Facebook’s growth should be prioritized over everything else, including the fact that a kid might be committing suicide because of bullying on the platform, or that terrorists might be using Facebook to coordinate an attack. “The ugly truth,” he wrote, “is that we believe in connecting people so deeply that anything that allows us to connect more people more often is a de facto good.”

While Zuckerberg has said that he disagrees with this sentiment, and Boz himself has said he was just being provocative, another story published afterwards on the Verge noted that Facebook employees were more upset that the memo leakedthan they were about its very contents. “Leakers, please resign instead of sabotaging the company,” one Facebook employee wrote after the story was published.

Read the full article in Vanity Fair here.

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