Tim Cook wants Facebook dead and his strategies are working

Can Mark Zuckerberg convince us all to join the Metaverse before Tim Cook kills Facebook?

Tim Cook wants Facebook dead and his strategies are working

It's been speculated that Facebook's hasty rollout of their new company name and mission— Meta and the Metaverse™— was an attempt to distract us from all the Zuckerberg and Co.'s bad press as of late. While that may play a role in the timing, I believe it has more to do with Facebook's need to beat Apple to the "Metaverse." What's the Metaverse, you ask? Who the fuck knows, honestly. Facebook was scant on the details. But, all the tech giants seem to be excited about it. I guess, in short, the Metaverse is just Augmented Reality (AR) or Virtual Reality (VR) applications that allow us to connect with people in virtual spaces. It's like a Black Mirror episode without any of the Jon Hamm charm.

For companies like Facebook and Apple, the race to the Metaverse has less to do with who will ship the first killer VR/AR application and more who will own the de facto hardware for those applications. It's become clear to Mark Zuckerberg (and perhaps all of us mere mortals in the tech world) that Facebook cannot survive the next decade with Apple as their hardware gatekeepers. As it stands, if you're an American browsing Facebook, Instagram, or WhatsApp from a mobile device, there's a 50% chance that the device runs iOS. This market share puts Facebook in a tight situation, and they can't let that happen again.

For years, it has been rumored that Apple is just about ready to roll out its own AR/VR headset to compete with, well, no one in particular, honestly. While Facebook has Meta Quest (formally know as Oculus) and Google has, um, Cardboard, the VR hardware space is still wide open. Similar to how MP3 players existed in the early 2000s but took the iPod for the concept to go mainstream, Apple Glass could be the device that finally convinces us all that the VR life is worth living. Mark Zuckerberg needs to stop that from happening if he wants to keep up his bbq sauce addiction.

Facebook, or Meta, or whatever the fuck it's called now, must become vertically integrated for the next tech gold rush, owning the entire AR/VR experience, from the hardware we use to plug into the Metaverse to the software the device runs on. Owning the payment method process wouldn't hurt either, as Apple takes up to 30% of purchases made from apps on the App Store, in some instances.

Facebook's somewhat strategic release of Meta, as if Mark Zuckerberg was Dr. Manhattan creating life on the fourth moon of Jupiter, is an attempt to prime the world into believing Facebook, and only Facebook has the keys to the Metaverse. Whether Meta has a clear product or not is inconsequential to them sticking their victory flag onto the surface of the Metaverse before anyone else, especially Apple. (Speaking of Surface, where's Microsoft in all this? They think the future of tech is a weird folding tablet that runs Android. They're now the most valuable company in the world, so maybe they're on to something? Nah.)

It's been recently reported that, for the first half of 2021, social media platforms have seen an estimated $10 billion hit in ad revenue. The hit is attributed to the App Tracking Transparency (ATT) feature— Apple's contentious third-party tracking restrictions introduced in iOS 14.5.

Immediately after the Facebook / Cambridge Analytica scandal broke in 2018, Tim Apple began directing, and campaigning for, aggressive changes to iOS in the name of privacy and mental health. Those changes, it turns out, have disproportionately hurt Facebook. For example, $8 billion of the reportedly $10 billion hit in ad revenue was Facebook's loss. Youtube, Twitter, Snapchat, and others shared the remaining 20%. Those figures don't seem to reflect the companies' respective market shares.

Apple isn't just cracking down on 3rd party tracking, which is Facebook's primary method for ensuring we receive relevant ads on our feeds, which in turn keeps click-through rates (CTR) high and advertisers (like me) happy. Apple aims for the knees by chipping away at Facebook's most important metric— the thing that has amassed Zuckerberg's advertising fortune— Average Time on Site.

Average Time on Site

Ever wonder why your favorite recipe blogger gives you their entire life story before they reveal how many cups of flour to use? The reason the actual recipe is pushed down, so you have to scroll to the bottom of the page, has to do with the Average Time on Site metric. It's simple cause and effect— the longer you're on a site, the more ads that site can serve to you. Each ad you see counts as an impression. More ad impressions equal more ad revenue. Facebook is really good, better than most even, at keeping you on its apps so it can serve you the maximum number of ads. Like, scary good.

You'd be hard-pressed to find a modern social media feature that wasn't designed for the sole purpose of keeping you on its platform as long as possible. Every Facebook feature we now take for granted— endless feeds governed by algorithms, suggested groups to join, push notifications informing you that someone you know has 'posted for the first time in a while— it's all designed to keep you on, or coming back to, the app.

Average Time on Site is Facebook's golden goose metric, and Apple is chipping away at it with new, sophisticated iOS features.

Tim Cook's new gospel

For the past three years, Apple has been laser-focused on changing our relationship with the iPhone. Tim Cook, at the same time, has been hitting the news circuit with a new gospel. His message is two-pronged and roughly this:

  1. The amount of personal data collected by third-party tracking is obscene and infringes on our fundamental human rights.
  2. We are spending too much time mindlessly scrolling our phones, and it's affecting our mental health.

Effectively, Apple wants to block the ability for software companies to track our behavior once off their apps (3rd party tracking) and reduce the amount of time we spend 'mindlessly scrolling' on our iPhones (or iPads). The latter, which introduced the Screen Time feature in iOS 14, is a less obvious shot at Facebook but just as damning to its revenue streams.

We want people to do things with their devices, like the photography exhibit or connecting with family and friends with FaceTime. Not endless, mindless scrolling… And so, we came out with Screen Time to try to give people a true reading of the amount of time they're really spending on their devices because generally, it's a lot more than they say. — Tim Cook, Apple's CEO

Think of it like this: Vegas casinos famously design their interiors like mazes without a single clock in sight. Why? Average time on site. The longer you're inside their doors, the more money you will spend. But, what if The Bellagio didn't own the building, and the landlord decided to give each visitor a map and then put up clocks on every wall. It would likely hurt business, yeah? That's precisely what Apple is doing with Facebook, except Tim Cook is also standing at the casino's front door asking each person, "do you really want to go in there again?"

Screen Time was just the first shot fired at Facebook's Average Time on Site metric. In iOS 15, Apple released robust Do Not Disturb improvements and a new Notification Summary feature which holds all of your "unimportant" notifications until the end of the day, effectively removing the temptation to open Facebook or Instagram as notifications hit your home screen. Sure, this also hurts Google but not nearly as much since Google has a suite of 1st party apps to track you. Not to mention they have a 70% market share worldwide with Android. These recent changes to iOS are a danger to Facebook's bottom line, especially, not only because of the Time on Site metric but because of Mark Zuckerberg's inability to call Cook out on everything Apple is doing here.

Zuckerberg's argument against Apple's ATT feature is that it limits Facebook's ability to serve relevant ads to its users, which will hurt small businesses or some shit like that. He also points out that Apple's own advertising business is a conflict of interest and these changes are self-serving. These arguments are, at least, somewhat compelling. But, Zuckerberg can't exactly send a press release claiming Apple's desire to reduce our screen time on its own devices is based on self-interests. Nor can he claim that more screen time is somehow good for users, not after the whistleblower scandal. Such a claim could backfire on Zuck. So far, he's been silent on the Screen Time features and has focused mainly on ATT.

It gets even more tricky when we take a look at some of the other new iOS features like - Sign in With Apple, which replaces Facebook Login, or FaceTime and iMessage's new social features that reduce the need for WhatsApp and Messenger, or even a seemingly unrelated change like MagSafe, which inconsequently encourages users to put their phone down while it is charging.

Tim Cook's strategy is death by a thousand cuts. And many of those cuts are stealthy inflicted.

You can make the argument that Tim Cook honestly just wants better privacy features and to improve our mental health. Both seem to be a part of the company's ethos. But, we've known the dangers of unchecked tracking and mindless scrolling for years now. It wasn't until the Cambridge Analytica scandal that Apple declared war. Tim Cook isn't going to close his eyes and hope Facebook plays nice with our privacy and mental health, while data companies like Cambridge Analytica are stealing our data and using it against us to sway a reported 152 elections worldwide. And sure, Apple isn't playing an active role in the destruction of western democracy but, that doesn't mean the Cupertino company isn't complicit. At least 50% of American mobile users are using an iPhone to consume their disinformation. And because of this, I think Tim Cook doesn't just want Facebook to behave; he wants the company off iOS completely. And that reality would undoubtedly be a death sentence for the social media giant.

Here's a quote from Tim Cook speaking at a privacy conference eight months ago:

If we accept as normal and unavoidable that everything in our lives can be aggregated and sold, then we lose so much more than data. We lose the freedom to be human.

That's a fucking grim opening that leaves little room for redemption. Again, Facebook makes its money by keeping you on the site for as long as possible, and then once you close the app, tracking your movements on the internet. If either of those abilities were crippled in some way, Facebook would be in big trouble financially. Apple seems, for the last three years, to be doing just that. Facebook's days are numbered because of it. That is, of course, Zuckerberg can convince us all to head over to the Metaverse. Hard pass.

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