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The feud between Mark Zuckerberg and Tim Cook is more public than ever

Daniel Howley
Technology Editor

There’s certainly no love lost between the leaders of two of the most influential companies in the world. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Apple CEO Tim Cook have been having an ongoing tit-for-tat with regards to how companies use consumer data.

Zuckerberg’s Facebook vacuums up user data to power the advertising business that generates billions of dollars a year. Cook, meanwhile, has made it a mission to take a stand against the commoditization of user data.

Now Zuckerberg’s distaste for Apple is more public than ever. In a New York Times investigation into Facebook’s response to its slew of controversies over the past two years including the Cambridge Analytica scandal, Russian meddling and the explosion in hate speech, it was revealed that Zuckerberg has told top executives at Facebook to ditch their iPhones in favor of Google-backed Android devices.

Two opposing views

In a statement issued in response to The Times’s piece, Facebook called out what it said were “inaccuracies,” but pushed back about Zuckerberg’s demand that executives use Android devices instead of the iPhone. Instead, it said that Facebook employees and executives are encouraged to use Android because it is the most popular operating system in the world.

Mark Zuckerberg told his top executives to ditch their iPhones, according to The New York Times.  Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images

“Tim Cook has consistently criticized our business model and Mark has been equally clear he disagrees. So there’s been no need to employ anyone else to do this for us. And we’ve long encouraged our employees and executives to use Android because it is the most popular operating system in the world,” the statement said.

Apple has been pushing its view of consumer control over user data for years. In the aftermath of the San Bernardino massacre, Apple refused to create a special backdoor for one of the shooter’s iPhones, as doing so, the company reasoned, would weaken the security of every other iPhone around the world. After all, a key to break the password for one handset would work on all of them.

Facebook, on the other hand, trades in user data. It works to keep that information safe, but it doesn’t always succeed. What’s more, it has been criticized in the past for its arguably opaque privacy settings and user agreement.

Those diametrically opposed views exploded into a public spat following the revelations that Facebook user data was stolen by Cambridge Analytica. In an interview with Recode’s Kara Swisher and MSNBC’s Chris Hayes, Cook famously criticized Zuckerberg’s Facebook for the way it handles user data.

When asked in an interview how he would handle a scandal like Cambridge Analytica, Cook responded by saying he simply wouldn’t be in that situation.

NEW YORK, NY – OCTOBER 30: Tim Cook, CEO of Apple speaks while unveiling new products during a launch event at the Brooklyn Academy of Music on October 30, 2018 in New York City. Apple debuted a new MacBook Air, Mac Mini and iPad Pro. (Photo by Stephanie Keith/Getty Images)

Cook has previously called privacy a human right and in a commencement speech at Duke University said, “We reject the notion that getting the most out of technology means trading away your right to privacy.

“So we choose a different path — collecting as little of your data as possible, and being thoughtful and respectful when it’s in our care,” he said. “Because we know it belongs to you.”

Zuckerberg shot back at Cook’s comments in an interview with Vox’s Ezra Klein saying, “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.”

Cook hasn’t just talked the talk when it comes to his dislike of services that use consumers’ data. In the latest version of Apple’s Safari browser, the company blocked social media plug-ins like the Facebook “Share” and “Like” buttons embedded in some websites.

Those buttons track user behavior even when you don’t interact with them.

It will be interesting to see if and how Cook will respond to the scathing New York Times report on Facebook. Neither CEO is likely to strike out at the other’s company without prompting via an interview or other means, so don’t expect an 8th grade-style Twitter war to erupt between the two.

But with two of tech’s biggest names involved, it’s sure to be something to watch.

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Email Daniel Howley at dhowley@oath.com; follow him on Twitter at @DanielHowleyFollow Yahoo Finance on Facebook, TwitterInstagram, andLinkedIn.