Mark Zuckerberg vs. Tim Cook Feud: A War of Words Over iOS 14's App Tracking Transparency

Apple vs. Facebook’s timeline of events depicted through illustrations

Apple and Facebook have been at loggerheads for a decade now. And why wouldn’t they be? After all, one has mastered the art of selling products to its niche userbase while the other believing in free services by harvesting its customer’s data.

The respective CEOs, Tim Cook and Mark Zuckerberg aren’t the best of friends either. If you’d look through the archives, there have been several instances where each of them hasn’t shied away from expressing their resentments towards the other’s business tactics and vision. 

For example, Tim Cook once advised the Facebook CEO to delete all their data. As a response, Zuckerberg suggested Apple’s products are too expensive. 

There has also been an instance where Apple actually revoked Facebook’s developer certificate when the latter was found violating their App Store rules.

With the advent of iOS 14, Apple unveiled a new privacy feature that asks for user’s permission before letting advertisers track them across apps. This single popup caused the already strained relationship between the two firms to spiral out of control. Each of the CEOs was found taking swipes at the other over the course of 2020.

It’s like a war of words over user privacy with neither side willing to back down. With the showdown going for over a year, I thought to jot down the series of events through illustrations.


1. iOS 14 will impact Facebook’s Audience Network

It took about a month or two for Facebook to release its first statement on Apple’s iOS 14 opt-in ad tracking feature. As mobile advertisement agencies would no longer be able to re-target customers, a drop in revenue is going to be inevitable. 

In a blog post, Facebook claimed how their Audience Network would be severely impacted. They warned developers and publishers who use their SDK that their revenues would drop by at least 50 percent due to limits placed on personalized ads.

This is where the battle over the iOS 14 App Tracking Transparency framework started.


2. Apple delays the privacy update to give developers more time

The Cupertino tech giant got a lot of criticism from the entire advertisement industry. Making IDFA obsolete was a groundbreaking change and would lead to billions of dollars of revenue loss for mobile ad networks. 

With the pandemic in full swing, Apple decided to push the privacy update to the next year (2021) so that developers and publishers have time to get their iOS apps ready. 


3. Facebook starts rolling out newspaper ads to push the privacy update further

As the date for the software update inched closer, Facebook launched marketing campaigns in an effort to further delay the privacy feature. 

No holds barred, the social media kingpin rolled out two full-page newspaper ads. One portrayed Apple as the Darth Vader of small businesses while the other called them a danger for the free internet.

It’s a no-brainer that Facebook looks to offer free products and monetizes off the users by targeting them through advertisements. At the same time, Apple over the years has been increasingly focusing on subscription-based services. 

Yet, Facebook’s PR stunt did very little to garner compassion. The world knows that the company is no saint and its whole move of disrupting Apple’s update had a personal agenda. Facebook was primarily trying to save its advertisement business since it would no longer be as effective once personalized ads are made an opt-in feature.


4. Tim Cook responds to Facebook’s criticism in one tweet

Known as a man of few words, Tim Cook was expectedly quiet as Facebook continued to criticize Apple. However, when he responded, he did it in style through 140 words

He shared a valuable principle about privacy. It’s about being transparent and giving users a choice.


5. Mark Zuckerberg doesn’t shy away from calling Apple’s privacy push a business motive

At the end of 2020, Apple released another privacy update. This one required all apps to specify the data they’re collecting. Known as privacy labels, it’s information that appears in the App Store. 

Unsurprisingly, Facebook and its family of apps had the longest list of privacy labels. 

However, Facebook didn’t back down as called this feature advantage for Apple’s pre-installed apps. Mark Zuckerberg whose previously shared remarks about Apple’s App Store monopoly was quick to criticize Apple for its anti-competitive practices. In a quarterly earnings report, he stated how Apple’s privacy changes are self-serving. To add to that, he expressed that he now sees Apple as the biggest competitor of Facebook. 


6. Tim Cook expresses his thoughts about Facebook without naming them

During this while, Facebook did a few more things to ensure privacy push doesn’t impact them. First, they released a new privacy policy for WhatsApp that forced users to accept sharing their data or risk losing the account within 30 days(though this strategy backfired). 

Secondly, Facebook rolled out banner messages and ads that showcased personalized ads as a good thing for users.

At a privacy conference at the start of 2021, Tim Cook criticized business models that prioritize increasing user engagement at the expense of data. He expressed how such models can cause polarization and violence. While he didn’t name Facebook, it was obvious that his remarks pertained to the social network.


7. Surprisingly, Mark Zuckerberg talked about the benefits of iOS 14 privacy for Facebook

In a strange turn of events, Mark Zuckerberg actually cited that Facebook would be able to benefit from Apple’s privacy push. This wasn’t surprising as Facebook already has an enormous amount of first-party data.

What’s more, Facebook has been working on a news publisher platform and rewarding content creators on Instagram. Plus, they’ve shared how they make money from WhatsApp by connecting users to businesses. 


8. Tim Cook minces no words when talking about Facebook

With iOS 14.5 with the App Tracking Transparency feature finally out, Tim Cook was asked about its impact on Facebook. As always his reply was transparent and to the point.

First reported in Inc’s magazine, Cook remarked on how he doesn’t see Facebook as a competitor since the iPhone maker is miles away from the social network business. To add to that, he expressed that his focus remains on improving the experience of their customers and not on other tech giants.


In the end, the conflict between Apple and Facebook is less about privacy and more about opposing business philosophies. While Apple is known for its flagship products that enrich the user’s experience, Facebook offers free services at the expense of user’s data. Each of them is correct in their own ways and is doing the best to expand their firm’s market share. 

Thanks for reading.