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Apple’s 10-year feud with Facebook

Mark Zuckerberg in Sun Valley. David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images

An innocuous-looking iPhone update has become the latest flashpoint in Apple and Facebook’s decade-long “cold war”, says Mike Isaac in this podcast for The Daily. A new prompt asks iPhone users if they want apps to track data about them – most people decline. But selling that data to advertisers is pretty much Facebook’s entire business model. Apple’s move seems directly targeted against them.

It wasn’t always so. Back in 2010 Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg would go for long walks in Silicon Valley’s apricot groves. Their companies were “symbiotic”: the iPhone needed apps such as Facebook’s and Facebook needed smartphone users. Then they started to compete – Apple’s iMessage took on Facebook Messenger, for example. Things got “icier” when Jobs died in 2011 and Tim Cook replaced him as Apple CEO.

The real turning point was 2016-17, when Facebook gained a reputation as a “conduit for misinformation” and its ads were criticised for unduly influencing the US presidential election. Apple decided to differentiate itself from its “data-hungry” rival: it stopped letting websites track users of its Safari web browser. Zuckerberg hit back, saying advertising helped make the internet free to use, unlike Apple’s exorbitantly priced products.

In 2019, at a billionaire’s commune called Sun Valley where the two companies had planned peace talks, Cook told Zuckerberg his business model was “broken and wrong”. Apple announced its app tracking crackdown soon after. Virtual and augmented reality, which both companies have “secret wings” working on, will be “the battle of the next five to 10 years”. The days of pally walks are long over.

Listen to the podcast here.