Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak has left Facebook and joined the #DeleteFacebook campaign because of the way the social media giant treats its users’ data.
Facebook has been under a lot of pressure after recent news about the way its users’ data was allegedly used by Cambridge Analytica, a research company which works with political campaign groups.
Facebook’s share price has gone down significantly and US political leaders have asked its CEO Mark Zuckerberg to testify before Congress.
The details are yet to be fully established but there are allegations that Cambridge Analytica indirectly acquired data about Facebook users in its work to help its clients.
It’s not clear whether Cambridge Analytica has declared whether or not it did help the Republican presidential campaign, and it’s also not clear if it played a role in the British referendum to decide whether or not to leave the European Union.
However, Cambridge Analytica is not the only reason or the first time Facebook has come under scrutiny.
In the immediate aftermath of Trump’s election to the White House, Facebook was accused of allowing its platform to be used for the dissemination of large amounts of what’s now called “fake news”.
“Fake news” is a catch-all term to mean stories that are untrue or damaging to whoever or whatever they target, and to be fair to Facebook, fake news is all over the internet.
Nonetheless, with 2 billion users Facebook provides a powerful potential platform to any provider of news or other information, as it does to those who want to collect data on those users.
Apple CEO Tim Cook recently reiterated his company’s commitment not to profit from selling users’ data, and Apple claims to generally be against the trend. Cook even declared privacy to be a “human right”.
As quoted in Recode, Cook said: “The truth is we could make a ton of money if we monetised our customer… We’ve elected not to do that.
“Our products are iPhones and iPads and Macs and HomePods and the Watch, et cetera, and if we can convince you to buy one, we’ll make a little bit of money, right? But you are not our product. You are our customer. You are a jewel, and we care.
“We care about the user experience. And we’re not going to traffic in your personal life. I think it’s an evasion of privacy. I think it’s – privacy to us is a human right.”
Now, one of its original founders, Wozniak, the engineer who built the first computers while Steve Jobs was busy marketing them, has chimed in on the data privacy subject and Facebook.
As quoted in the USA Today website, Wozniak said in an email: “Users provide every detail of their life to Facebook and … Facebook makes a lot of advertising money off this. The profits are all based on the user’s info, but the users get none of the profits back.”
He also echoed what Cook said about Apple’s philosophy on the subject. “Apple makes its money off of good products, not off of you. As they say, with Facebook, you are the product.”
But while Apple can perhaps afford to take the high road since it sells billions of dollars worth of expensive hardware devices and makes humungous profits from them, other companies are having to try and provide services at low cost or even for free. At least this was the argument put forward by Zuckerberg in response.
In an interview with Vox, the Facebook CEO said the Apple CEO’s remarks were “extremely glib”, adding: “If you want to build a service which is not just serving rich people, then you need to have something that people can afford.”
There can’t be many companies on the internet who do not use such information for commercial purposes. But Facebook’s huge popularity and the notion that it may have swung an election make the company stand out among others.
Facebook has made numerous changes to its algorithm and system since the “fake news” controversy, and while losing one or two users here and there may not matter in terms of its overall income, what might have more effect perhaps is if Congress decides to change some of the regulations around how user data can be commercialised or commoditised.
The reality is Facebook and many other companies – including most famously Google – make money through getting to know their users so well that they can target advertising at them that will be relevant and even perhaps personalised.
In fact, Facebook and Google dominate the online advertising market globally. If these companies, and other smaller ones, are prevented from gathering so much data about users, it’s possible that it will have a catastrophic effect on their business going forward.
For Google, its cloud business and other enterprise services are bringing in substantial income – billions of dollars.
But Facebook and many other social media – such as Twitter – and advertising networks rely on user data, and if that is taken away from them, they will likely scramble to completely to rebuild their business model with an entirely new world view.