Apple CEO Tim Cook recently published an op-ed in Time Magazine demanding the FTC allow people to track and delete their data on demand. Cook positioned the request as pure altruism:

"Consumers shouldn't have to tolerate another year of companies irresponsibly amassing huge user profiles, data breaches that seem out of control and the vanishing ability to control our own digital lives."

Agreed. However...

No publicly-held company ever asks for government regulation unless it provides them with some kind of competitive advantage. Indeed, any publicly-held company that "does the right thing" in a way that reduces its stock price can find itself on the short end of a lawsuit or a shareholder revolt.

So, under the circumstances, it's a fair question to ask 1) why is Apple is now up in arms about user privacy, and 2) why did Cook suddenly feel the need to make a public statement on this issue?

Apple is not averse to gathering information about users, since it does so inside iTunes and the App Store. And Apple isn't averse to using that data to for targeted advertising. However, Apple has elected to build its main business model around the sales of consumer electronics and copyrighted content rather than online advertising.

That's not true of Apple's competition. Apple is increasingly competing in its core markets with Google (Android), Facebook (Portal) and Amazon (Alexa, Prime). All three of these companies are aggressive information gleaners whose ability to gather masses of user data is crucial to their business models. 

Because of this, if Apple convinced the FTC to regulate user privacy it would be the equivalent of knifing three of its major competitors right where it hurts the most. So that's the "why" of Cook's sudden interest in user privacy. But why now?

I suspect the timing of Cook's op-ed was determined by Microsoft's accidental reveal (and subsequent re-hiding) of its Bali project, which would do exactly what Cook is wants the FTC to do, but to the benefit of Microsoft.

As I explained previously, if Microsoft is successful with Bali, Microsoft would become the intermediary for a huge chunk of the Internet, potentially returning it to the kind of market dominance Microsoft enjoyed in the early 1990s.

Apple hasn't forgotten how Microsoft almost drove Apple out of business or how Microsoft bailed Apple out (oh, the shame of it!) in order to maintain the fiction of a competitive marketplace.

Apple may fear competition from Google, Amazon, and Facebook but it actively loathes Microsoft. In short, Cook wants the FTC to regulate user privacy because that would royally screw the four companies it hates the most, especially its arch-nemesis.

Published on: Jan 19, 2019
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