Two tech CEOs entered into a war of words over the last week, sparring over who cares more about their users. (Trick question: Neither cares about users). In one corner, we have Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO of Facebook, on an apology tour ever since it was revealed that his platform allowed developers to siphon off vast quantities of data. In the other corner, we have Tim Cook, the Apple CEO who is just happy that we’re not talking about the poorly treated workers who assemble his phones.
Last week, Tim Cook didn’t mince words when talking about Facebook’s privacy screwup. He spent a few minutes bragging about the App Store’s review system, which takes privacy into consideration. Apple also has a bias toward processing information on-device, rather than remotely. “The truth is, we could make a ton of money if we monetized our customer — if our customer was our product,” he said, referring to Facebook’s system of offering advertisers access. “We’ve elected not to do that.”
Asked what Apple would do in a similar situation, Cook was unequivocal: “I wouldn’t be in this situation.” Apple’s core business, he argued, is selling products to customers, not subsidizing free services by collecting customer data and offering its use to advertisers.
Mark Zuckerberg did not like that. During a chat with Vox’s Ezra Klein, the Zuck defended Facebook’s ad-based revenue model:
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 here is that if you want to build a service that helps connect everyone in the world, then there are a lot of people who can’t afford to pay. And therefore, as with a lot of media, having an advertising-supported model is the only rational model that can support building this service to reach people.
That doesn’t mean that we’re not primarily focused on serving people. I think probably to the dissatisfaction of our sales team here, I make all of our decisions based on what’s going to matter to our community and focus much less on the advertising side of the business.
For what it’s worth, both of these companies have substantial profit margins — the high cost of Apple products isn’t a direct result of privacy efforts, and Facebook’s financials don’t show a company hurting from putting user privacy before client needs.