What Tim Cook Knows That Facebook Doesn’t

by Feb 7, 2019Get on Board

Apple’s action to enforce its privacy policy became public recently when Facebook was found to be gathering data without permission. Through a program only available to trusted developers, Facebook was testing an app. Apple asserts that while doing so, Facebook violated the privacy aspects of their agreement, leading to the suspension of Facebook employees’ access to apps they were testing or updating, that run on Apple devices.

The first line of an article in the New York Times, said, “It’s nowhere in his job description, but Cook, Apple’s chief executive, has recently taken a moonlighting gig as Facebook’s privacy watchdog.” It’s hardly a gig, moonlight or otherwise, for Tim Cook to protect the assets of Apple, tangible or intangible. Apple’s decisions regarding privacy are well-known and can be considered a corporate asset.  

The idea that some iPhone users would flee if Facebook, Instagram and other apps owned by the Facebook company, was not available on devices using iOS, sounds dramatic. It might sound reasonable that such risk would deter Apple from defending its privacy policies. But this standoff and others cannot be understood from a purely legalistic or competitive point of view. Privacy, as Cook has said, “is a fundamental human right.” Privacy is central to Apple’s ethics. Not merely a code of ethics but an actually embodied ethic.

No company delivers on its promises perfectly. Recently, it was revealed that Apple’s FaceTime had a vulnerability that allowed users to snoop on one another. True, but the bug was just that – a bug – not a secret attribute. Apple itself halted the use of FaceTime to fix the defect.

No company delivers on its promises perfectly. Click To Tweet

Privacy is important to millions and millions of people, and they also have few champions of it. Conversely, privacy deliberately impinged upon and later revealed causes great ire and mistrust. A loss of trust doesn’t lead many people to close their Facebook accounts, but minimizing usage reduces access for advertisers and the volume of data available to Facebook. The ad-supported platforms sell access to users who don’t often realize that their online behavior is the product. What will millions of people do when enough trust has been eroded? Perhaps nothing given how dominant the platforms are. For now.

Sincerity Matters

Facebook appears adolescent, pushing boundaries, apologizing for the lack of diligence that allowed Cambridge Analytica to fly under the radar. After the incident, which led to Mark Zuckerberg’s testimony in Washington, DC, it doesn’t appear that Facebook has taken enough of the right actions. In hindsight, it calls to mind the noxious and sarcastic retort, “Sorry, not sorry.” What a puzzle, give that Sheryl Sandberg, the chief operating officer at Facebook, is no immature businesswoman.

Apple appears a more mature company. Cook looks calm, thoughtful and deliberate. He brings to mind Frank Blake, former chairman, and chief executive officer of The Home Depot.

Blake, when faced with a data breach, did exactly what he should have. He quite rightly placed a premium on the trust customers have in the company and addressed them directly, and personally. No excuses, no throwing anyone under the bus, and no lack of sincerity. Most importantly, he didn’t hide the truth.

A CEO doesn’t necessarily predict the maturity of a company nor does the age of the company itself. GE, Hewlett Packard and Campbell Soup have all had major disruptions that can be blamed on leaders, both CEOs and boards. The issue is culture. Leaders who wink and nod when their employees violate the very tenets the company says it stands for in service of achieving revenue, market dominance or other goals will find themselves in crisis repeatedly.

Tim Cook knows that leading Apple requires the strength of conviction and a company organized to pursue its objectives in a manner he can, in good conscience, defend. The leaders of Facebook say they want users to trust them. People want to believe them, in part because the apps have become so essential to our everyday lives. Faith isn’t enough. So far, the leaders of Facebook have not organized the company to deliver in a manner that would make them proud. 

Good will is a corporate asset and it is not permanent.

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