Facebook vs Apple

January 30, 2021

Facebook and Apple… two of the world’s biggest tech companies, and they could not be more different to each other. Their newest beef about privacy and tracking has gotten some pretty heavy media coverage recently, and for good reason. This is likely going to change digital advertising and content consumption models for the long haul.


It’s important to note that both Facebook and Apple list privacy in their core values. Here are Facebook’s:

  • Give People a Voice: People deserve to be heard and to have a voice — even when that means defending the right of people we disagree with.
  • Build Connection and Community: Our services help people connect, and when they’re at their best, they bring people closer together.
  • Serve Everyone: We work to make technology accessible to everyone, and our business model is ads so our services can be free.
  • Keep People Safe and Protect Privacy: We have a responsibility to promote the best of what people can do together by keeping people safe and preventing harm.
  • Promote Economic Opportunity: Our tools level the playing field so businesses grow, create jobs and strengthen the economy. (Source)

And here are Apple’s:

  • Accessibility: Built‑in features that work the way you do. Make them yours, and make something wonderful.
  • Education: Giving products, support, and opportunities to schools that need them most. Apple has been part of the ConnectED initiative since 2014, pledging $100 million of teaching and learning solutions to 114 underserved schools across the country. We’ve donated an iPad to every student, a Mac and iPad to every teacher, and an Apple TV to every classroom. And we’ve implemented a process that provides planning, professional learning, and ongoing guidance so every school can experience the transformational power of technology.
  • Environment: Apple is carbon neutral. And by 2030, all of our products will be too. We’re designing the world’s most innovative products from recycled materials. Soon we’ll make them all with clean energy and no carbon footprint. Some say it’s impossible. At Apple, we think different.
  • Inclusion & Diversity: At Apple, we’re not all the same. And that’s our greatest strength. We draw on the differences in who we are, what we’ve experienced, and how we think. Because to create products that serve everyone, we believe in including everyone.
  • Privacy: Privacy is a fundamental human right. At Apple, it’s also one of our core values. Your devices are important to so many parts of your life. What you share from those experiences, and who you share it with, should be up to you. We design Apple products to protect your privacy and give you control over your information. It’s not always easy. But that’s the kind of innovation we believe in.
  • Supplier Responsibility: Living up to our highest ideals takes the same hard work and innovative spirit we devote to our products. Labor, human rights, and environmental protections are the foundation of our Supplier Code of Conduct. And we go further to empower the people in our supply chain and to leave the world better than we found it — all while working with partners to get us there faster.

Both name drop privacy and also hold the community close. But Facebook’s values are a more top level, external to them and holistic (giving people a voice, building community, promote economic opportunities). The big ones here are the democratisation and equal accessibility of information/platform use. The privacy value is slightly at odds with this.

Apple’s values are more internal facing, and more product-focused. Their idea of accessibility is that their products are able to be used by those with all vision, mobility, hearing and cognitive abilities. Apple’s key work for community building is by supporting education/schools through providing their products/software, and making sure their supply chain is ethical and empowering. Apple do care about inclusivity and diversity, but have NOT listed equality as a value. (More info about the very important distinctions between inclusivity, diversity and equality here. Also fun fact – Apple is not a particular diverse company either by gender or ethnicity.)

These values serve as a good background to how their content consumption models are diametrically opposed. Facebook believes content should be free to consumer or create (i.e. avoiding a situation where only rich white people can check out valuable content, and only rich white people can serve their content to the masses). Apple believes in privacy, and does not value content accessibility as a core value.

Mark Zuckerberg does acknowledge the gripe people have with Facebook’s business model: “When people have questions about the ad model on Facebook, I don’t think the questions are just about the ad model. I think they’re about both seeing ads, and data use around ads.” (And yes – I even did a whole talk at BIGSOUND about whether your phone is listening to you. I’m still convinced that they don’t LISTEN to you, but perhaps they pick up keywords in your messages/comments, and this creepy feeling of being heard is a combination of the Baader–Meinhof phenomenon paired with super powerful machine learning from the dozens of signals you and your friends.)

I’m not a tech ethicist, and I don’t have the answers here. But I can see both sides of the coin. With Apple’s model, you don’t have creepy advertisers manipulating you into purchasing things you didn’t know existed. But there’s also the accessibility issue. What happens if you cannot afford to pay for this content? What if you can’t afford to pay to have your content seen? In this world, if social media was paid for and ad-free, does that mean that those who can’t afford it can’t access it? Can’t socialise? Don’t get invited to events, don’t see cool new trends or news? Lose touch with their friend? Miss out on job opportunities because they don’t have a network? I am incredibly uncomfortable with the idea of paywalling mass communities across the board (paywalled fan communities are not included here). Accessibility to content and tools for marginalised communities is a huge thing to me, as a BIPOC.


Apple’s new iOS 14 has a bunch of new changes. The key ones are these 3 points around app privacy:

  • App tracking transparency: Starting in early 2021, receive a prompt when an app wants to track you across apps or websites owned by other companies for advertising, or wants to share your information with data brokers. Then decide if you’ll give it permission.
  • App tracking settings: <No info here – says coming soon>
  • Privacy information on the App Store: You can now get information on the App Store to help you understand the privacy practices of every app before you download it. (Source).

If you use an iPhone/iPad, you’ll get this message:

(It is not lost on me that Apple used Facebook as the example on their own site.)

What this means for everyone:

  • Apple is letting users decide if they want to share their activity back to apps.
  • The pop up window is a prompt to let people decide consciously what they want to do. Thinking, Fast And Slow by Daniel Kahneman has some great insight into this using organ donation statistics between countries. Those that require manual opt in and much lower.
  • Before users even download an app, they can VERY easily see what data the app will track. E.g. financial information, location, browsing history.

What this means for advertisers and apps:

  • Apps can no longer easily ask for dodgy extra info, like your financial details. If they ask, you’ll know.
  • Lots of people are likely to NOT allow apps to track their data and info.
  • Less data to track = less data to act upon.
  • Your data is know going to be heavily skewed to non iOS users. (Diff to this – but according to Google Analytics, this website is now viewed by 100% Android phone users now.)
  • Advertisers won’t be able to target users as neatly any more.
  • Advertisers won’t be able to segment or optimise towards very niche actions anymore. It’ll be basic events like add to cart, purchase etc. but if you were doing hella specific shit before, that’s all gone.
  • Apple users who have opted out may get some pretty weird ads now that are very general and purely based off your ASL. Their Facebook experience might not be as good.
  • Advertisers’ audiences and data will be skewed and not representative of the whole pool and may not be accurate. (E.g. if you’re making insights into your converted audience with only access to 40% of them, is that really enough to be robust? And if Facebook is trying to optimise your campaign for a key result but can only see 40% of the key results, how intelligent can it be?)


My advice for advertisers (regardless of where you sit on the paid/free content argument) is this:

  • Focus on zero party data. Collect your own data, direct from your customers. If you incentivise collection, be really clear that you are collecting data.
  • In addition to the above, don’t solely rely on a community or data where you don’t have full access. If you’ve built your business around having access to 100K followers on Instagram, and for whatever reason you lose access (either through platform changes, or if you get booted off the platform) you’re screwed.
  • Have a strategy around what value you provide your consumers in exchange for their data, and let them know what it is. For an EDM, this might be private content, discounts, pre-sale ticket access, special merch bundles. If it’s a gated community, it might be private/special access/interactions with the talent, early access to content, special competitions, videos from the artist.
  • Be clear and transparent with data, regardless of where it’s come from. Make sure any pages/accounts that are advertising are labelled correctly. Make sure that your email lists are named properly and have the right source info. Some EDM platforms list this at the bottom of the emails OR on the unsubscribe form, and I hate it when it’s some vague thing like Maggie_Customers_mailing_FINAL1714826. Much better if it has a message like, “You’re getting this email because you purchased a product from our online store.”
  • Tidy up your company’s data and privacy policies. The average consumer is becoming increasingly interested in this and really hold you to it.
  • And finally, don’t stick your head in the sand. Advertisers are needing to jump through some hoops right now to help Facebook be compliant with Apple. It’s annoying. But yes – do it. (More info here.)


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