|05 December, 2018

Silicon Valley mud fight leaves all splattered

A rift in Silicon Valley is uniting a divided Congress

The Apple Campus 2 is seen under construction in Cupertino, California in this aerial photo taken January 13, 2017.

The Apple Campus 2 is seen under construction in Cupertino, California in this aerial photo taken January 13, 2017.

REUTERS/Noah Berger

WASHINGTON/NEW YORK  - A rift in Silicon Valley is uniting a divided Congress. Apple Chief Executive Tim Cook has been taking aim at privacy and content issues that beset social networks. Meanwhile Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg is slinging mud back, by pointing out the market dominance of Apple’s iPhone. Both tech firms, and their rivals, will end up splattered.

While Wall Street and other industries often band together in tough times, Silicon Valley defaults to battle mode. When accepting an award at an Anti-Defamation League event on Monday, Cook said “there is no time to get tied up in knots” when it comes to hate speech. It could easily refer to Zuckerberg’s muddled messages about such behavior, which has proliferated on Facebook. Cook has previously railed against what he calls a "data industrial complex."

It’s easy for him to do that, because Apple doesn’t run a social network, and collects less sensitive data about its customers than Facebook or Alphabet-owned search engine Google. Salesforce’s Marc Benioff has gone as far as pushing for the world’s largest social network to be regulated as harshly as the tobacco industry. For Facebook’s part, Zuckerberg has noted that the iPhone’s ubiquity makes it hard for competing messaging apps to gain ground.


Facebook’s slowness at dealing with privacy issues and data breaches is remarkable. The problem is many lawmakers don’t make the distinction between companies. That’s partly generational: the current Congress is among the oldest in U.S. history, according to the Congressional Research Service. The average age ranges from 58 in the House to 62 in the Senate. Although some mooted regulations are aimed at reining in Facebook, privacy rules, or changes to the legal immunity enjoyed by publishers of online third-party content, would affect others too.

It’s also dangerous to single out Facebook for those who have flaws of their own. Alphabet’s YouTube is a prime destination for extremists. Google chief executive Sundar Pichai, who skipped a high-profile hearing that both Twitter and Facebook attended in September, is scheduled to have a solo appearance before lawmakers next week. He will find that facing Congress alone is much more painful than sharing the blame.


- Apple Chief Executive Tim Cook said on Dec. 3 that those who seek to push hate and violence have no place on Apple’s platforms.

- “If we can’t be clear on moral questions like these, then we’ve got big problems,” Cook said during an acceptance speech for an award given by the Anti-Defamation League.

- Google Chief Executive Sundar Pichai is schedule to testify before the U.S. House Judiciary Committee on Dec. 11.

(Editing by John Foley and Amanda Gomez)

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