On one hand, Facebook's comments to the NTIA on Apple's market power are supremely ironic. *Facebook*, complaining about excessive market power?
Even worse is what Facebook is complaining about: Apple's App Tracking Transparency update to Ios devices like the Iphone, which allowed users to comprehensively and easily block all the apps on their phones from spying on them. When Apple gave users this choice, nearly all of them chose privacy.
Facebook says this cost them $10b (no wonder they're mad). Nothing Facebook did - neither deceptive messages about why users should choose to be spied on, nor astroturf campaigns from small businesses extolling the value of submitting to surveillance - worked:
So on the one hand, Facebook's motivations here are straightforward. Facebook profited from depriving its users of the right to decide how they used its service. Apple gave users more control. Facebook lost money, and complained.
But on the other hand...they've got a point.
Not about why it's bad that Apple gave its customers the ability to choose privacy - but that those Apple users had to wait for Apple to decide that they deserved that protection.
For example, Google and Apple kicked the worst location data brokers out of their platform - but left dozens of nearly equally terrible ones to ply their trade:
Apple argues that preventing its users from choosing rival app stores is just a manifestation of the company's sense of duty and commitment to caring for its users. But Apple, like all other tech giants, has conflicting priorities here.
Apple''s decision to take a 15-30% cut of every penny you spent using apps means that its motives are, at best, mixed.
As Apple fights laws in the EU (Digital Markets Act) and USA (Open Apps Market Act) that will force it to allow its customers to choose other app stores, it continues maintain that it objects to these purely on security grounds. Apple makes that argument, but doesn't acknowledge the possibility that a third party app store might *increase* security:
The pretense that Apple objects to competition on purely altruistic grounds is absurd. Apple's decision to take a 30% commission on in-app sales means that its own products have a 30% advantage compared to its competitors. Think of audiobooks, which Apple sells through its media player, and also lets Amazon sell through its Audible app, on preferential terms.
The retail margin on audiobooks is 20%, which means that a competing audiobook store on Apple's platform loses money on every sale (that's why indie alternatives to Apple/Amazon all make you buy your books using a browser).
But even if you take Apple at its word and stipulate that Apple wants to protect its customers (which it often does!), the company has made it clear that it shouldn't have the last word on this.
Yes, it has stood up to governments that tried to force it to weaken the privacy protections in Ios:
But the company also caves in when some governments order it to weaken security:
And sometimes Apple weakens its security even when *no* government tells it to:
In Facebook's complaint, they accuse Apple of intentionally raising the "switching costs" of leaving Ios for Android, by refusing to improve Safari so it can run web apps that work equally well on any platform, and by blocking users from installing non-Safari-based browsers on Ios:
Facebook is a world authority on the abuse of high switching costs as a means of locking users to its platform, even when they'd prefer to leave.
After all, that's what Facebook does. Internal FB memos, published by the FTC, expose a parade of mustache-twirling Facebook execs discussing how to make leaving Facebook as painful as possible:
Many of the proposals to address Apple's inconsistently benevolent dictatorship of Ios customers' apps have toyed with the idea of forcing Apple to include apps it doesn't like in its App Store. This is...not great.
I don't believe in corporate personhood, but you don't have to be a Citizens United megafan to worry that the federal government maybe shouldn't be allowed to order companies to publish things they don't think are worth publishing.
By contrast, rules that allow Apple customers to choose other stores, ones they trust more, are pretty great.
The reason we cheer when Apple lets Facebook users choose to use some parts of the service (talking to their friends) but not others (being spied on) is because people - not corporations - should have the final say over their technology.
That's true of Apple, too.
Again, it's great when Apple protects its customers' privacy. It's great when Facebook does it (as they did when they turned on end-to-end encryption for billions of Whatsapp users).
But the final word on whether a privacy measure is legitimate shouldn't rest with Facebook or Apple, or any other tech giant.
That word should to to the public, through a national privacy law with a private right of action, one that sets the floor on privacy protections on all platforms, app stores and services:
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