The Cambridge Analytica scandal is shining a bright light on the ethics of how Facebook makes money. With the private data of billions up for sale to not only advertisers but political organizations, where is the line drawn between Facebook engaging in capitalist enterprise and the company abusing its power of influence?
Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple, currently the world’s most profitable company, is leaning more towards the latter category when it comes to Facebook. Last week, Cook gave a statement to Recode on what he thought about the Cambridge Analytica scandal. He said, “The truth is, [Apple] could make a ton of money if we monetized our customer – if our customer was our product. We’ve elected not to do that.”
You know, I find that argument, that if you’re not paying that somehow we can’t care about you, to be extremely glib. And not at all aligned with the truth. The reality here is that if you want to build a service that helps connect everyone in the world, then there are a lot of people who can’t afford to pay. And therefore, as with a lot of media, having an advertising-supported model is the only rational model that can support building this service to reach people . . . I don’t at all think that means that we don’t care about people. To the contrary, I think it’s important that we don’t all get Stockholm syndrome, and let the companies that work hard to charge you more convince you that they actually care more about you. Because that sounds ridiculous to me.
The argument here, essentially, is that Apple makes its money off the small fraction of people who can afford to pay sometimes-outlandish prices for technology, while Facebook makes money off large corporations while we regular folk get to use the service for free. Cook says Facebook’s money-making method is ethically flawed, and Zuckerberg says Apple’s approach is no better because it rejects the majority of the population who can’t afford Apple products.
Facebook and Apple both have the same goal: make as much money as possible and keep it tax-free as long as possible.
Whether you find yourself on Team Cook or Team Zuck is pretty much irrelevant. Apple may not make money off its users’ private data, but that in no way means Apple is ethically sound. Facebook may have grand plans for connecting the world in some sort of online harmony, but the Cambridge Analytica scandal (among others) proves that as good-natured as that plan may be, it is also dangerous.
What both companies need to do is put their money where their mouths are and realize the genuinely ethical thing would be to pay taxes in full, put the consumer first, and redistribute the wealth. Only then can we have a rational discussion about whose method is better than the other’s.