Facebook is still taking shots at Apple

April 29, 2021, 1:00 PM UTC

Facebook seems to have toned down its attacks on Apple. But during its first-quarter earnings call, it didn’t refrain from criticizing its Big Tech counterpart. 

For weeks, the social network has blasted Apple’s plan to roll out a new iOS update that allows iPhone and iPad users to deny apps like Facebook from tracking their activity across other apps. Facebook claimed that Apple’s update would hurt small businesses, which rely on services like Facebook to reach their customers. And during a previous earnings call Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg spent much time criticizing the tech giant, saying Facebook’s messaging product WhatsApp is superior and suggesting that Apple was one of its “biggest competitors.” 

On Wednesday, Zuckerberg mostly steered clear of Apple, instead focusing on Facebook’s plans for augmented and virtual reality, commerce, and messaging. But in response to an analyst’s question about Apple’s update, Facebook’s Chief Financial Officer David Wehner threw a small jab.

“The impact of the Apple approach is really much bigger than this particular update,” he said. “Apple has a number of private API’s on hardware and software that advantage their own products and services in ways that are challenging … We generally don’t think that this closed approach is the best one for the industry from an innovation perspective.”

On the other hand, Apple, which also reported its first-quarter earnings on Wednesday, didn’t mention Facebook at all. 

The most we’ve heard from CEO Tim Cook came from an interview he did on Kara Swisher’s podcast “Sway” a few weeks ago. “We compete in some things,” Cook said about Facebook. “But no, if I’m asked who our biggest competitor are, they would not be listed.”

Mark Shmulik, analyst at brokerage firm AB Bernstein, said he was actually surprised how little Apple came up during Facebook’s earnings call. “The previous quarter Zuckerberg got on the call and went off,” he said. “They kind of toned down the public animosity.”

But that doesn’t mean the two won’t butt heads in the future. 

Facebook is aggressively trying to take on iMessage, which still has more active users than Facebook’s Messenger, Shmulik said. And both companies are reportedly working on augmented reality glasses.

Products aside, the ongoing feud boils down to a difference in how the two companies view the future of the Internet. “Some like the privacy and security of a closed ecosystem,” Shmulik said alluding to Apple. “And some like [an] open ecosystem that fosters creativity.”

Facebook may have toned down its rhetoric for the time being. But if Apple’s privacy impact is far worse than Facebook expects, my bet is Zuckerberg will bring back his boxing gloves. 

Danielle Abril


Apple’s new iOS 14.5 contains a privacy feature that’s worrying the digital advertising industry. When iPhone and iPad users download a new app, they’ll be asked if they’d like to allow the app to track their activity across other apps. Digital advertisers, like Facebook, fear the answer will overwhelmingly be “no,” which is why some say Apple’s App Tracking Transparency (ATT) feature could seriously change how much advertisers get to know about us. On today’s Brainstorm podcast episode, Michal Lev-Ram and Brian O’Keefe examine what the ATT means for rivaling tech giants Apple and Facebook, as well as for smaller businesses and consumers. Listen to the podcast here.


Beating all expectations. Facebook and Apple both impressed Wall Street with their first-quarter earnings on Wednesday. Facebook’s revenue rose 48% year over year to $26.2 billion. The company credited the jump to a 30% increase in the average price per ad and 12% rise in the number of ads purchased. Meanwhile, Apple’s sales rose 54% to $89.6 billion in part thanks to wireless carriers’ discounts on the iPhone 12. In after-hours trading, Apple’s shares rose 4% and Facebook’s rose 6%.

The end of endless scrolling. Netflix bingers rejoice. The streaming service has debuted a new viewing mode that will alleviate viewers’ decision fatigue. Viewers who select the option, called Play Something, will give Netflix the power to decide what streams next. Netflix will choose a show or movie it assumes the viewer will enjoy based on viewing history and give users the option to skip ahead to the next selection if they don’t like what they see. Now if only Netflix could automatically stream something based on my mood. That would be impressive … and maybe a little creepy.

A little cheddar. Amazon is increasing pay for more than 500,000 workers from mid-May to early June. The raises, which will total between 50 cents and $3 per hour, were originally set to roll out as part of Amazon’s fall pay review, but the company moved it up as it tries to fill “tens of thousands” of jobs across delivery, package sorting, and order fulfillment. The company’s business has boomed during the coronavirus pandemic, which spurred many consumers to turn to online delivery for their groceries and household items. Since then, Amazon has hired hundreds of thousands of workers to help meet the rising demand.

The union fight continues. Speaking of Amazon, the U.S. National Labor Relations Board has suggested that there may be enough evidence to overturn the union election in Bessemer, Ala. Earlier this month, workers at the Bessemer warehouse overwhelmingly voted against unionizing. But the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union, which backed the unionization efforts, filed complaints with the NLRB alleging that Amazon violated national labor law and interfered with the election. The NLRB hearing about the matter is scheduled for May 7.

Say my name, say my name. Google rolled out some new updates to the Google Assistant that will help it correctly pronounce people’s names as well as understand users’ winding trains of thought. That means no more awkward pronunciations of contacts who have tricky spellings. And Google can also understand users who change course mid-sentence or ask a question that depends on the context of a previous question. The improvements are first debuting in English, though the company aims to eventually expand it to other languages.


As cities across the U.S. reopen, many are trying to find the right approach to keeping COVID-19 cases down while resuming activities like major sporting events. For some, that means turning to tech tools like digital vaccine passports, which are websites and apps that help people prove they’ve been vaccinated. Meanwhile, schools and businesses may ask students or employees to provide a one-time proof of vaccination before returning.

Albert Fox Cahn, founder and executive director of the privacy group Surveillance Technology Oversight Project, and Mahima Arya, a computer science intern at STOP, say it’s important for the public to avoid confusing the two. The latter approach is “part of the status quo,” while the former is “downright creepy,” the authors write in an op-ed for Wired.

“Vaccine apps like New York’s Excelsior Pass act like a virtual bouncer, a check you have to pass every time you enter a venue. These scans create a new, inescapable web of geolocation tracking, building out a map of our most intimate moments. And unlike the decades-old vaccine registries that helped schools fight past pandemics, vaccine apps are being launched without any evidence they work, and plenty of reasons to be skeptical,” the authors write.


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The problem with Basecamp’s apolitical stance By Lucinda Shen

Uber lets you book rides by the hour so you can run errands By Danielle Abril

Dogecoin is surging again. Here’s why. By Chris Morris

Maybe it’s not the right time for a Bitcoin ETF By Jesse Proudman

Google’s Alphabet to spend $50 billion on shares as the great buyback barrage takes off By Bernhard Warner

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In a previous Data Sheet, I wrote about Hulu’s WeWork documentary. Well, last week, HBO released a new 10-episode series called “Generation Hustle,” which explores the stories of various con artists. Episode 2 covers the “Cult of WeWork,” and one of the people featured in that episode is Jamie Hodari, the CEO of WeWork competitor Industrious.

Hodari spoke with me about his experience with ousted CEO Adam Neumann, who ultimately drove his company into the ground before his exit. Hodari recalled a meeting he had with Neumann on WeWork's private jet. After two Bloody Mary’s, Neumann asked the other passengers for some privacy with Hodari. Then he dropped a bomb, Hodari recalls: “We are going to bury your business. I have 150 people waiting for a one-word email from me, and they’re going to reach out to every one of your customers and offer one year free at WeWork. The people who stay will get two years, then three until you don’t have a business left.”

And it wasn’t just a threat. Neumann actually followed through, crippling Hodari’s business in Atlanta and Dallas. Still, when all was said and done Industrious survived. And Neumann? Well, we all know how that ended. 

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