As I was writing last week’s words about Mark Zuckerberg’s hubris-driven view of world domination, little did I know that the next chapter was literally being written. The very next day, a full-page ad from Facebook ran in The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal attacking Apple for building privacy protection prompts into iOS 14.
It will come as a surprise to no one that I line up firmly on the side of Apple in this cat fight. I have always said we need to retain control over our personal data, choosing what’s shared and when. I also believe we need to have more control over the nature of the data being shared. iOS 14 is taking some much-needed steps in that direction.
Facebook is taking a stand that sadly underlines everything I wrote just last week -- a disingenuous stand for a free-market environment -- by unfurling the “Save small business” banner. Zuckerberg loves to stand up for “free” things -- be it speech or markets -- when it serves his purpose.
And the hidden agenda here is not really hidden at all. It’s not the small business around the corner Mark is worried about. It’s the 800-billion-dollar business that he owns 60% of the voting shares in.
The headline of the ad reads, “We’re standing up to Apple for small businesses everywhere.”
Ummm -- yeah, right.
What you’re standing up for, Mark, is your revenue model, which depends on Facebook’s being free to hoover up as much personal data on you as possible, across as many platforms as possible.
The only thing that you care about when it comes to small businesses is that they spend as much with Facebook as possible. What you’re trying to defend is not “free” markets or “free” speech. What you’re defending is about the furthest thing imaginable away from “free.” It’s $70 billion plus in revenues and $18 and a half billion in profits. What you’re trying to protect is your number-five slot on the Forbes richest people in the world list, with your net worth of $100 billion.
Then, on the very next day, Facebook added insult to injury with a second ad, this time defending the “Free Internet,” saying Apple “will change the internet as we know it” by forcing websites and blogs “to start charging you subscription fees.”
Good. The “internet as we know it” is a crap sandwich. “Free” has led us to exactly where we are now, with democracy hanging on by a thread, with true journalism in the last paroxysms of its battle for survival, and with anyone with half a brain feeling like they’re swimming in a sea of stupidity.
Bravo to Apple for pushing us away from the toxicity of “free” that comes with our enthralled reverence for “free” things to prop up a rapidly disintegrating information marketplace. If we accept a free model for our access to information, we must also accept advertising that will become increasingly intrusive, with even less regard for our personal privacy. We must accept all the things that come with “free”: the things that have proven to be so detrimental to our ability to function as a caring and compassionate democratic society over the past decade.
In doing the research for this column, I ran into an op-ed piece that ran last year in The New York Times. In it, Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes lays out the case for antitrust regulators dismantling Facebook’s dominance in social media.
This is a guy who was one of Zuckerberg’s best friends in college, who shared in the thrill of starting Facebook, and whose name is on the patent for Facebook’s News Feed algorithm. It’s a major move when a guy like that, knowing what he knows, says, “The most problematic aspect of Facebook’s power is Mark’s unilateral control over speech. There is no precedent for his ability to monitor, organize and even censor the conversations of two billion people.”
Hughes admits that the drive to break up Facebook won’t be easy. In the end, it may not even be successful. But it has to be attempted.
Too much power sits in the Zuckerberg’s hands. An attempt has to be made to break down the walls behind which our private data is being manipulated. We cannot trust Facebook -- or Mark Zuckerberg -- to do the right thing with the data. It would be so much easier if we could, but it has been proven again and again and again that our trust is misplaced.
The very fact that those calling the shots at Facebook believe you’ll fall for yet another public appeal wrapped in some altruistic bullshit appeal about protecting “free” that’s as substantial as Saran Wrap should be taken as an insult. It should make you mad as hell.
And it should put Apple’s stand to protect your privacy in the right perspective: a long overdue attempt to stop the runaway train that is social media.