Apple-Facebook feud shows tech giants’ tremendous market gatekeeping powers, expert says

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Big Tech

Big Tech

On Thursday (Jan. 28), Apple CEO Tim Cook criticized Facebook as tensions grow between the tech giants over online privacy, and as Facebook reportedly considers filing an antitrust lawsuit against Apple.

Facebook alleges Apple gives preferential treatment to its own apps, while forcing restrictive rules onto businesses that advertise via Facebook, including requiring customers to opt in to tracking across apps on their devices.

Elizabeth Renieris
Elizabeth Renieris

"What this feud demonstrates more than anything is that Facebook and Apple have tremendous gatekeeping powers over the market,” said Elizabeth M. Renieris, founding director of the Notre Dame-IBM Technology Ethics Lab at the University of Notre Dame. 

It’s a good reminder that Facebook's true customers are advertisers, not people, according to Renieris, who specializes in privacy and the ethical and human rights implications of new and advanced technologies.

“Facebook’s business model is built on targeted advertising, with tremendous risks for civility and democracy,” she said. “And it demonstrates just how much Facebook controls access to customers or audiences through its ads ecosystem.”

At the same time, Renieris points out, the dispute underscores the power Apple has to mediate access to personal data through its engineering choices and policy decisions. 

“Given the antitrust scrutiny both companies are under in the U.S. and the proposed Digital Services Act in the EU, which would introduce new obligations and penalties on so-called 'digital gatekeepers,' the looming legal battle between the two tech titans is supporting evidence for both,” she said. “And even if Apple's business model is more rights protective and better for consumer privacy, there is still a question of whether we want a large corporation like Apple effectively 'legislating' through its App Store. 

“Afterall, the U.S. still doesn’t have a comprehensive federal privacy law, so while Apple and Facebook duke it out in the courts, we shouldn't be satisfied with corporate goodwill and continue pressing Congress to act."


Contact: Elizabeth M. Renieris, elizabethrenieris@nd.edu.