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Will The 2021 Clash Of The Tech Titans Be Staged On Our iPhones?

It’s always an attraction when two Goliaths battle it out on the big stage.

The problem is, our privacy is on the line.  And it’s not exactly clear who has our best interests in mind.  We’ve come a long way since the corporate magnates of the last century dominated the lives of Americans.

Henry Ford, J. P. Morgan, Andrew Carnegie, and John D. Rockefeller all came out of fields like automotive, steel, oil, and banking to make their fortunes and set the tone for what our society would become.

Now, we’re ensconced in the 21st century, and a handful of men (OK, white men) are running the show.  And now, the commodity is data, software, and Artificial Intelligence.

In the crosshairs is our data – or better put, our privacy, assuming of course, that those in power in the nation’s capitol have a clue about what’s at stake.

Tim Cook, Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, and Warren Buffett are at the controls.  And true to form, there are competitive turf wars playing out as the nation and the world are undergoing the most cataclysmic changes since World War II.

Our data is now the currency.

Perhaps the good news is we’re growing warier and more skeptical.  In our Techsurveys, we have included questions about the privacy issue, and the role big tech plays in our lives.

These are big numbers.  A near majority strongly agrees with the idea that big tech may not be using our personal information responsibly.  Numerous breaches in recent years factor in to these perceptions.  And note that general trajectory.  In general, older respondents have grown more skeptical about data misuses.

Apple is well aware of this public sentiment about privacy loss by the biggest tech companies – and they’re taking action.

Apple’s new iPhone update – 14.5.1, to be precise.  In this update, Apple explains the new software will do all sorts of things – unlock the phone while you’re wearing a mask, offer different skin toes for emojis, new voice option for Siri, and finally this:

App Tracking Transparency lets you control which apps are allowed to track your activity across other companies’ apps and websites.

Photo: Apple

Once everything is in place, millions and millions of iPhone (and iPad and Watch) owners download the new software and app developers code the iOS changes to our apps, we’ll start getting one-time popups for apps that collect data (illustrated right).

And that’s a game changer for any company whose business is using user data to sell ads – like Facebook.  Virtually all of their revenue is leveraged on their collected data so that advertisers and marketers can sell us their wares.

Earlier this week, Seth Resler wrote a great post about how Apple’s new policy might impact Facebook, Google, and other platforms that aggregate data for the purpose of data marketing.

The answer is; profoundly.

While some might view Apple and Facebook as simply two ginormous tech monoliths, they have a very different business model.

Apple mostly sells gadgets – computers, smartphones, tablets, and wearables.  Facebook sells ads, leveraged off the content of its billions of users and the data they (or “we”) generate.

The backstory behind Apple’s decision to let consumers make the call about whether to let Facebook – or anyone else – use our data is a clever tactic.  And it ostensibly uses research that probably isn’t much different than what we see in Techsurvey 2021 about how personal information and web tracking is collected and used?

Who won’t make the choice: Ask the app not to track my data. Most of us will gleefully take that option, pushing back in our own little way against the powerful force of Facebook.

So, it’s a mano a mano duel between two modern titans, Cook and Zuckerberg.  And it’s weaponizing their powerful companies against one another.

This skirmish is far from sudden.  In fact, Cook has been taunting Zuckerberg during the past few years.

The Guardian’s Kari Paul calls it “playing chicken” in a recent story, noting these digital industrialists started their duel in 2014 when Cook answered a question about how tech companies use consumer data with this simple comeback;

Follow the money.

And when Facebook was being investigated about its role in propagandizing the 2016 election, Cook was asked what he would do if he ran the world’s largest social media platform.

His response?

“I wouldn’t be in that situation.”

Now it’s mushroomed into a nuclear war of words between Cook and Zuckerberg – and it’s not pretty.

Zuckerberg has attacked Apple’s generous App Store split with developers (30¢ on the dollar), saying it negatively impacts the “creative economy.”

Last week, this trash talking reached a whole new level.  In a recent interview with Kara Swisher, Inc’s Jason Aten reports Cook was asked how Apple’s decision will affect Facebook.

And his response is the ultimate dis to a competitor:

“I’m not focused on Facebook, so I don’t know.”

Yes, like a PD who says he doesn’t even listen to his competition – arrogant or just plain savvy?

Cook doubled-down on his company’s relationship with Facebook:

“If I’m asked who our biggest competitors are, they would not be listed.”

Touché.

Of course, there’s another piece of data these bigger-than-life CEOs should be focused on – how most Americans feel about companies like theirs:

A majority now agrees with this idea that some tech giants should be broken up – up sharply from last year.  Apparently in “The Year of COVID,” many of us were thinking about the power (yes, data) vested in so few hands and how it’s being deployed.  As is the pattern, progressively older respondents are more up in arms.

Will Congress have the bandwidth, the fortitude, and the knowledge to start another round of hearings about who owns our data and how its being used remains to be seen.

But the louder the ruckus from Kong and Godzilla – Cook and Zuckerberg – the greater likelihood this could get end up in D.C.

Pull up a chair.  This is getting interesting.

 

Want to know more about how radio listeners feel about issues like these? Join us tomorrow for a free webinar where we’ll take a deep dive into the results of this year’s Techsurvey.

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