Can you Trust Apple, Facebook or Google?

This video is sponsored by Brilliant. The first 200 to use the link in the descriptionget 20% off the annual subscription. Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, and dearfriend to 100 million real, human, people, has an announcement. First, just a reminder, this is a good company- we do good things here – like providing a public space to share news and information. But, did you know, sometimes people also liketalking in private? Weird, but we’re here to serve you. If the world wants more private messaging,Facebook will provide it! Doing this is not easy, by the way. We’re making huge sacrifices over here! And, sure, we’re not perfect, we’ve stillgot lots of work to do – so don’t blame us when we inevitably mess this up, and don’texpect any real, tangible changes anytime soon. Now, if you’re like me, you saw this headline,yawned, chuckled, rolled your eyes, and got back to watching a robot drive a robot acrossthe desert in silence.

But I think that’s a mistake. The first part, I mean. Right now, three of the biggest companieson earth – Facebook, Google, and Apple – are telling vastly different, conflicting storiesabout your privacy. So, who can you really trust? Marketing 101: Every company is telling astory. About who you are, who you should be, and,more specifically, why 40 pounds of dehydrated marshmallows, which, double as a soft pillow-fillingmaterial, will help you become that person. Some stories are subtle, others… not. And some can coexist. Everyone loves a good Apple versus Googleheadline, but, the truth is, on the whole, the two have probably been more symbioticthan competitive. One sells advertisements, and the other, screensthrough which to see them, disproportionately bought by an advertiser’s favorite demographic:young people with disposable income. Although, this is kind of just an accident. A few years ago, Apple made it really easyto block ads on your iPhone, which, for them, is a nice, but not really earth-shatteringfeature. For Google and the rest of the advertisingindustry, it was ahhh, less than ideal. I guess the lesson is don’t let 75% of yourrevenue come from a company with totally opposite priorities. The human was just crossing the street, butthat’s the end of the world for the ant. Today, the only difference is that each companyis much more actively trying to step on the other, with their mutually-exclusive storiesabout collecting your data. First, Google, embraces it – arguing thatyou shouldn’t just tolerate their using your data, you should want it. One because giving your phone more informationmakes it more useful. Your phone is your secretary, and the moreit knows about you, you more it can do for you. It’s easy to say you value your privacy,people overwhelmingly do.

But, then, in practice, do you really carethat Google can read your email if it means you can tell your phone to “book a car”and, because it already knows when and where, it automatically does it for you? People have certainly sold their data fora lot less. And, two, because all this data, in aggregate,makes these services better, cheaper, and more accessible to, say, people in poverty. Critics argue these tools aren’t reallyfree, you just pay with data instead of dollars. Well, says Google, if data has value, thendonating it is charity. Let Google see your photos, and Translategets better at reading text, which helps disadvantaged people navigate the world. Really, you’re a hero. Everything from Gmail, to Chrome, Photos,Drive, and Translate, relies on collecting your data, and, thus, convincing people ofone or both of these stories. Apple, meanwhile, rejects the whole concept. Tim Cook argues that’s a fake trade-offdesigned to justify a business model where you are the product, not the customer. Not only does your iPhone not need your datato be useful, it says, it doesn’t even want it. For Apple, storing your information is onlya liability. Now, whether you buy that logic or not, youhave to stop and admire its genius. Because, if Google says your data is whatallows it to sell cheaper products, then Apple can argue it’s higher prices are a feature. You should feel good paying more for an iPhone,because it’s proof Apple doesn’t need to sell you out to advertisers. On the other hand, this argument is also harderto explain. While Tim is busy waxing poetic about privacy,Google just points to the price tag – everyone wants to save money. And, finally, Facebook, denies it. “The Future is Private”, it says, so whilethe old website emphasized the News Feed – an open, public place to talk, The “Town Square” is becoming more likea “living room”. Now, with the redesign, it’s all about privategroups and communities.

Notice, by “private” it means ‘exclusive’or ‘separate’, not necessarily “your data stays between you and your device, oryou and the receiver”. In other words, it gets to capitalize on thebuzzword – like ‘Cloud’, ‘AI’ or ‘blockchain’ before it, without having to make any significantchanges. Google also announced something new: The idea is that, say, you’re typing a newacronym – instead of sending that data to Google’s servers to determine whether it’sa new word to add to its dictionary, or just a typo, your phone itself computes that locally. This way your phone can make use of your data,without Google, the company, being able to see it. It’s similar to Apple’s “DifferentialPrivacy”, with just as bad a name. It’s interesting because: A) Unrelated to all this, phones are gettingso good that people don’t feel the need to upgrade so often. Using the A12 chip on the iPhone XS to sendSnapchats is kind of like using a Ford Super Duty to haul your child’s teddy bear. But, when more work is being done on-device,rather than, in the cloud, all that power is suddenly useful. and, B), If Google can have its cake and eatit too – give you both privacy and a better product, then Apple just looks more expensive. That’s why these companies are so enthusiasticall the sudden about privacy. No-one forced their hand so much as gave theman opportunity. The priorities of a growing company, likeFacebook in 2010 when it got caught sharing your private information, are very differentfrom those of an established, dominant one, like Facebook today. A growing company is much more willing tomove fast and break things because that’s what it takes. It’s easy to do a bad thing, get big bydoing it, and then say “Look at us, aren’t we cool for not doing that bad thing anymore!” See: Uber. It may be strategically smarter to fix a problemlater than do the right thing all along. Facebook got where it is today by eating upyour data. But, now, it’s an open question whetherit really needs it anymore. Even if every Facebook message were encryptedtomorrow, it would still be able to show you relevant ads. How? Because they had years to train those algorithmswith the data they now so courageously encrypt.

So they get PR-points for doing what theywould’ve done anyway: try to draw back the kids these days who’ve left in favor ofInstagram, Discord, and Snapchat. Facebook and Google have the same basic businessmodel: selling tailored advertising. The difference is, the latter provides waymore value, so it can afford to be much more honest about the trade. So, am I saying don’t trust Facebook? Yes. Not because Mark Zuckerberg is evil, morelike “detached from reality”. Now, don’t get me wrong, sometimes I likemy CEO’s detached from reality. It’s just that someone sober needs to tripsit so things don’t get out of control. Usually we call that a board of directors,but when the CEO has the power to appoint and fire board members, well, that kinda defeatsthe purpose. The problem is Facebook has three kinds ofshares, Class A – which are so generously offeredfor purchase to you and me, come with 1 vote each. Class B, 10 votes. And Class C, come with no voting rights. Can you guess which kind Mark gives to charity? So, even though, on paper, Zuckerberg “only”owns about 28% of shares, he has about 53.3% of all the voting power, granting him majoritycontrol. Because of this, Facebook’s board of directorshas about as much power as North Korea’s parliament. Zuckerberg will be voted out right after KimJong-Un loses an election. Okay, so what about Apple? Does it really care about your privacy? Personally, I hope not. Much better the reason they build secure,private products is that they’re financially incentivized to. Good, caring, trustworthy people retire, getfired, and pass away, but incentives, I can trust. People who proclaim ‘Apple just wants yourmoney’ are missing the point… Who knows what Apple’s true motivationsare?, whatever that means. But, also, who cares! Zuckerberg once said “I think it’s importantthat we don’t all get Stockholm Syndrome, and let the companies that work hard to chargeyou more, convince you that they actually care more about you.” And, I agree – billion-dollar companies tendto be kinda… single-minded. So, follow the business model. The only thing you should trust is that acompany will try to do what’s in its best financial interest. So, make sure their’s is, at least, kindaaligned with yours. Whenever there’s a big hack, Tim Cook will,predictably, do a few interviews about privacy, trying to convince you that Apple’s interestsare most aligned with yours. With every update, Google, will try to dothe same, by giving you more features and more value in exchange for your data. And, Facebook, will… keep apologizing. Now, it’s just a question of whose storyyou buy. The surprising thing about Facebook is thatit doesn’t really need that much information to know who you are. As the probability lesson on Brilliant.orgexplains, a little bit of data has a lot of predictive power. For example, Facebook sees you’re visitingits website from Berkeley, California, a city of 122,000 people. But, you also joined an expecting mother’sFacebook group, and recently traveled to Vancouver. There are lots of pregnant Californians andmany people recently visited Vancouver, but, together, the overlap is just small enoughto guess who, exactly, you are. Brilliant teaches you the math, science, andcomputer science behind technology like this, in interactive lessons and short, easily-digestibledaily challenges.

You can use the link in the description tostart learning for free, and the first 200 people to subscribe will get 20% off the annualpremium subscription, so you can view all the Daily Challenges in the archives and unlockdozens of problem-solving courses. Thanks again to Brilliant and to you for watchingthis video.