Facebook CEO and Founder Mark Zuckerberg fired an attack at Apple CEO Tim Cook in a recent interview with Time. In the article by Lev Grossman, Zuckerberg called earlier comments made by Cook regarding privacy and ad-funded businesses “ridiculous”, and accused Apple of charging too much for their products.

Zuckerberg’s comments, made in a discussion about the highly worthy Internet.org project, were a response to statements made by Cook back in September. In the wake of a scandal surrounding the hack and subsequent leak of numerous celebrities’ “personal” photos stored in iCloud, Cook issued a statement clarifying Apple’s policy on privacy and reaffirming its stance on collecting and selling the data of its customers (it doesn’t, he said).

Cook’s comments were a rather harsh criticism of the business models of free online services. Though not explicitly directed at anyone, the statement was generally reported as referring to Google, though clearly it was equally applicable to Facebook as well. He addressed the concept of “monetizing” of user’s data with a catch line which is already familiar to many of us:

A few years ago, users of Internet services began to realize that when an online service is free, you’re not the customer. You’re the product.Tim Cook, CEO of Apple
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Zuckerberg fired back with a direct shot at Cook, appearing not to understand the concept, and lashing out at Apple for apparently caring even less about its customers than he does. At least Mr. Cook had the grace not to name the companies in question, and reserved his criticism for the business practice. Mr. Zuckerberg apparently lacks this grace.

In the Time interview, Zuckerberg said:

A frustration I have is that a lot of people increasingly seem to equate an advertising business model with somehow being out of alignment with your customers. I think it’s the most ridiculous concept.Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook

Zuckerberg didn’t really clarify whether he’s frustrated because he doesn’t comprehend the criticism of his business model, or simply finds it frustrating that he’s being critiqued at all. But as the CEO of a multi-billion dollar enterprise based on an ad-supported model, isn’t is his responsibility to be familiar with this fundamental concern about his business model? And, frankly, it’s shameless to feign naïveté and state that he doesn’t “get” the idea that Facebook users are not, in fact, his customers.

Rather than address the ideological concerns, Zuckerberg instead acted like the child who, caught with his hand in the cookie jar, reveals a “worse offense” committed by his accusor:

What, you think because you’re paying Apple that you’re somehow in alignment with them? If you were in alignment with them, then they’d make their products a lot cheaper!Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook

And it’s here that Zuckerberg shows what may be either his lack of understanding of Cook’s statement, or his complete disregard for his subscribers. First, I remain shocked at the childishness of attacking Cook rather than address the extremely valid issue he raised. These concerns are indeed becoming “increasingly heard” because people are increasingly becoming aware of and concerned about what’s being done with their personal information.

And why shift the emphasis of the discussion from privacy and data harvesting to being in “alignment”? Do you believe, Mr. Zuckerberg, that by owning a database of your subscribers’ “likes” you have somehow aligned with them? That by delivering targeted advertising, you’ve formed some sort of a bond with them?

But more importantly, how can he compare his advertising-based business model with one based on selling high-priced products. Since you seem not to get it, Mr. Zuckerberg, allow me to refresh your memory of some basics of business. Apple designs and produces devices like computers, phones, and tablets. People who like those devices may choose to buy them, and are thus called “customers”, and those devices are therefore called “products” or “goods”.

Facebook, on the other hand, only offers its users a forum to connect and share information. Facebook’s income derives from selling targeted advertising to be delivered to those same users, based on preferences the site has learned from their comments, friends, and preferences. It has no goods or services to sell, and its users don’t buy anything. Thus, its only product to take to market is, in fact, its users’ data. And its customers, if it can be said to have any, are its advertisers. If those are the “customers” that Zuckerberg is saying he’s “in alignment with”, I’m inclined to agree with him.

To be clear, I’m not an Apple “fanboy” by any standards. Though I and my immediate family members own some Mac and i-products, I’m more likely to be seen using Android, Windows, or Linux devices, and have often been fairly critical of Apple’s products and practices. But I don’t begrudge them the right to sell their products at whatever price the market will bear.

Nor should the issue of Apple’s pricing even have been brought up in the same discussion as privacy and monetization, other than as a juvenile attempt to distract attention from his own ugly policies. No, Mr. Zuckerberg, yours is an entirely different brand of arrogance.

To be fair to Mark Zuckerberg, I’m highly impressed with the idea of Internet.org, and his participation in this consortium. It is a noble effort indeed to bring internet connectivity to the other two-thirds of the world’s population which currently doesn’t have it, and I applaud it.

But connectivity is only the first step. The much bigger question, Mr. Zuckerberg, is what kind of internet will you deliver to the rest of the world? Will it be the open web of information and communication that the developing world needs? Or a contrived presentation of crass advertising and ruthless capitalism? Based the comments in the Time interview, I’m less than optimistic.

Website: Time Magazine
Website: Apple

About the author

Fred Scholl

I'm an unabashed enthusiast of all things Android, open-source, and technology in general. I'm also an avid music lover and musician, playing guitar, bass, keyboards, and a host of other stringed instruments.

  • I would say that Facebook is providing its users a service – it’s the largest social media platform in the world, which allows people to connect to one another in a way that before Facebook was unprecedented. I’d also mention that targeted advertising isn’t a new concept. Radio allows for some of the most targeted advertising based on location and interests without ever knowing anything personal about their users.

    Obviously the sale of user data is a questionable practice, but people talk about it as though the third parties have any information about you other than a demographic. They don’t know your name, or any other identifying information. Obviously Facebook has this information and Google knows even more, but the information for sale doesn’t identify you personally in any way, which begs the question….why does anyone care? If I can have targeted advertising (have you ever tried turning it off? It’s even more annoying) and all of the free services like GMail (how did we live without it?) and in exchange, I have some of my *unpersonal* data sent to third parties, then what do I have to complain about?

    I’m not defending Zuckerberg, he’s a monster; and I haven’t used Facebook in well over a year, but I don’t think he’s wrong for trying to defend his company’s business model. He clearly didn’t need to launch an attack at Apple, but it’s unsurprising that he felt personally attacked by Cook’s statement.