Amid the enormous fallout over Facebook’s data breach that led to Cambridge Analytica harvesting 50 million user profiles, some of the most brutal shots at Mark Zuckerberg have arrived from fellow billionaires. Both SpaceX/Tesla CEO Elon Musk and WhatsApp co-founder Brian Acton have gleefully encouraged people to #DeleteFacebook. And now, Zuck’s getting pummeled by Apple CEO Tim Cook, who has taken issue with how Facebook monetizes user data while allowing advertisers to target specific user groups.
Cook recently told MSNBC’s Chris Hayes how he believes that detailed online user profiles shouldn’t exist and that Apple specifically decided to never do so. Well, Zuckerberg has a few things to say in response. In an interview with Vox, Ezra Klein mentioned Cook’s criticism of Facebook’s business model of selling user data to advertisers, which the Apple CEO said was less sound than putting actual products up to sale for users. Zuck fired back while claiming that Facebook works hard to provide a free service to users, and they have to make money somehow. He also called Cook’s argument “extremely glib”:
“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.”
And therein lies the issue with providing an addictive service — which Facebook ex-President Sean Parker recently admitted was designed to exploit “vulnerability in human psychology” — for free. Facebook ingeniously did so, and their platform is so entrenched in people’s lives that there’s little chance of enough people really stepping away from the service. Yet when people learned that 70 million people were targeted with political ads from fake Russian news accounts, the business model came under fire, and those flames continued to be stoked by the Cambridge Analytica scandal.
Zuckerberg persisted in his argument, however. He told Klein that Facebook does things similarly to Amazon, which CEO Jeff Bezos stated (in regard to a 2011 Kindle launch), “There are companies that work hard to charge you more, and there are companies that work hard to charge you less.” Zuckerberg insisted that Facebook belonged in the latter category, and he added, “I think it’s important that we don’t all get Stockholm Syndrome, and let the companies that work hard to charge you more convince you that they actually care more about you.” Yup, this battle of the tech CEOS is getting ugly.