Your Data, Your Privacy and the Battle Lines Drawn by Facebook and Apple

The next blockbuster movie to be released on HBO Max is Godzilla vs. Kong. I grew up watching both wreak havoc and climb legendary skyscrapers, so I’ll definitely block two hours to watch this epic battle. That said, this imaginary clash has nothing on the real-world battle unfolding between Mark and Tim, aka Facebook vs. Apple, over data and privacy.

This isn’t a new clash—but it has ratcheted up a notch over the past few months. As soon as I saw Facebook go on the offensive, accusing Apple of being tone deaf to the pandemic and enacting policies that hurt small business while taking out ads portraying themselves as the hero, I wondered how Apple would respond. Tim Cook gave a speech and threw shade without uttering “Mark” or “Facebook” once. Timed with the company’s widespread rollout of a new iOS update, it likely wasn’t coincidence; the update was designed to make iPhone users more aware of exactly how Facebook and other apps would track their behavior across the internet.

While this shot across the bow from Cook was just the latest jab at Zuckerberg and Facebook’s overall business model, Apple has long made consumers’ right to privacy a key company value. For example, privacy was the centerpiece of a recent marketing strategy aimed at influential tech industry members. As the maker of the devices that consumers use to access apps like Facebook, Apple is now truly harnessing its power to more overtly put choice in the hands of consumers with clear and transparent communication.

Public perception studies demonstrate that consumers agree with Apple, with Facebook repeatedly finding itself among the most hated companies. But is this clear evidence that Apple is the savvier company when it comes to PR? Or is Apple sincere? Either way, the company has seemingly placed itself squarely on the side of consumer and protecting their privacy.

But does the average person actually care as much as they say they do about privacy? The “Delete Facebook” movement reminds me of an old Yogi Berra quote: “Nobody goes there anymore – it is too crowded.” And while people say they hate Facebook, it is still a leader in engaging everyday people on social media.

We’re used to terms and conditions when we download an app or register for a website, but when was the last time, if ever, you read them? In most cases we simply check the box agreeing to the terms so that we can get to the content we want or the app to download. In fact, studies show that people say they want their digital and mobile behavior to remain private—but what they actual do indicates that they aren’t willing to pay out-of-pocket for things like news sources and stories. When pressed, many seem to say “okay, okay, you can track me if that means I still get to scroll and click for free.”

There’s also the push for personalization. I for one don’t mind targeted ads based on my online history... to an extent. I like getting recommendations for running shoes when I’m searching for running shoes. I would not like getting recommendations on health conditions I’m discussing in private on WhatsApp. Is this an opportunity for me to personalize my personalization? Would that be the happy medium?

It remains to be seen what will happen as Apple gets even more aggressive in this debate, as the company has with iOS 14.4. As a marketer, I am paying close attention; the outcome of each battle in this long-term war has implications for anyone who wants to reach their audience while their eyes are glued to their iPhone screen—so basically every Fortune 500 company, political candidate, local business owner and mom’s groups out there. While only time will tell how this battle will unfold, I’m confident we’ll always find a way to advertise. And as leader at Spectrum Science, an integrated marketing, communications and media agency dedicated to science and authenticity, we will do everything we can to ensure transparency as one of our core values.

But this is bigger than advertising. This faceoff has created the biggest possible stage for the discussion about our right to privacy—a topic we should all be paying close attention to. We need to remember that data is power and find balance between being smarter in delivering targeted advertising and protecting private behavior.

We all have a role in making sure those who have access to data do the right thing. Whether that means limiting the data companies can collect in the first place or finding ways to better regulate how it is used, these will be key questions in the coming years.

As C.S. Lewis once said, “Integrity is doing the right thing, even when no one is watching.” Because when it comes to protecting our own privacy, we should all be sure we are watching.

This article was originally published on LinkedIn by Rob Oquendo, Chief Innovation Officer.

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