Apple and Facebook bathe in the hot tub of hypocrisy

In the latest -- and very public -- dispute between two enormous companies facing antitrust examination, who's wrong? Who's right? Is there even a right?
Written by Chris Matyszczyk, Contributing Writer

The Holy One? Or Wholly Focused On Profits?

The lovely thing about our times is we've really learned to take sides.

Being neutral is to abdicate all responsibility. Well, unless we're talking about net neutrality.

Even with that, we're supposed to be deeply for (or against) it.

As we stagger toward Christmas, we're being encouraged to raise our cudgels and fight another Holy War.

Apple vs Facebook is less Ali vs Foreman and more Chuck Rhoades vs Bobby Axelrod in Billions.

Rhoades rushes toward moral high ground as if he's a crusader, while Axelrod pretends nothing other than to be nakedly moved by money, in the belief that everyone is.

At heart, Rhoades is painfully power-crazed and takes lashings from a dominatrix – I'm not specifically making an allusion to China here -- while Axelrod, seemingly feelingless, occasionally reveals his desperately childish need to win and therefore be loved.

But Rhoades is acting for the people, just as Apple claims to.

Facebook Stands Up For The Little Guy. Why, It Always Has.

Last week, Cupertino introduced its latest prosecution of Mark Zuckerberg's company. It will now force Facebook -- and all other apps, save the Apple ones that automatically appear on your iPhone -- to reveal how they track users. And goodness, does Facebook track users.

The idea is to let the people decide whether they want to be tracked like that or not. Democracy, don't you see?

For its part, Facebook did what all those who love power do when they're facing deep adversity. It played the victim.

The company is so upset that it resorted to newspaper ads in the likes of the New York Times -- personalized, one suspects, to address politicians rather than real people.

The ads said Facebook is standing up not for itself, but for small businesses. They'll be so very hurt -- so says Facebook's own research -- by customers realizing how those personalized ads come to be so appropriately placed by Facebook. Because Facebook is for the little guy who just wants to make a little money.

You might wonder why, then, Facebook always buys up any little guys that threaten its business. It's for their own good, you understand. It's to help them blossom.

Facebook insisted that Apple's motivation is profit, not privacy.

Which may have some truth attached, but sounds a touch odiferous coming from the company that once declared humans didn't want privacy at all and behaved as if that was true -- a behavior that made Mark Zuckerberg and friends oddly rich.

Apple has Facebook in quite a bind. Facebook can still track people. It just has to be transparent about how it does it and get permission.

How can Facebook possibly object to transparency, when it claims it's for it? It seems that this particular sort of transparency is, in some way, threatening the fabric of small business society.

It's odd that the only way Facebook thinks it can deliver personalized ads is by ritual, total spying. Aren't there more creative ways of doing it? Perhaps not, in a world run by machines.

Apple Is The People's Champion. Why, It Always Has Been.

Some may wonder, though, how far Apple's avowed desperation to give people choice is entirely sincere.

This is, after all, a company that hasn't always been too fond of letting its customers choose much at all.

Why, it made them use proprietary – and not very good – chargers for the longest time. It made its ecosystem such an all-or-nothing enterprise that you were increasingly either all-in or all-out. It only offered you one phone a year for the longest time.

As for its occasionally draconian app store rules, are they really there to give people choice?

Then there's Cupertino's apparently avowed insistence that no one who makes a movie for Apple's streaming service can show an iPhone being damaged, an iPhone being used by a bad guy, or anything that could possibly be seen as critical of China.

That's giving customers choice? Or is it giving customers highly prejudicial brand marketing?

So here we have an enormous company claiming it's protecting the ordinary human's right to choose to be spied upon up against an enormous company claiming it's protecting the ordinary small business at the expense of the ordinary human's right to choose whether they want to be spied upon.

The Humans Will Decide. Why, They Always Have.

I went on many a moral hike this year and now have trouble locating my moral compass.

How can we possibly decide a winner? Because there has to be a winner.

Perhaps we should look at these companies not by what they do now, but what they plan to do in the future.

Well, Apple last week again expressed its deep enthusiasm for Augmented Reality. CEO Tim Cook mused in an interview: "I think it's [AR] something that doesn't isolate people."

Facebook announced last week – in a private company meeting, of course --  that it's developing neural sensor technology to read your thoughts. At the same meeting, Facebook also offered that it was "at the center of being human." 

And there I was thinking at the center of being human lay in thinking for yourself and being able to make choices.

But we've learned this year that the people do still have the ability to choose, at least at the ballot box.

So I'm left with a question. When all these warning signs go up on apps, will people really be bothered to do something about them?

I wonder.

After all, look at all the terms and conditions we've carefully examined over the last 20 years.

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