‘Mark and I strongly disagree with their characterisation’: Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg snaps back at Apple CEO Tim Cook in simmering data row

  • Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg said she “strongly disagrees” with Apple CEO Tim Cook’s barbs about Facebook’s approach to user privacy.
  • Cook has made much of Apple’s “respectful” approach to personal information since the Cambridge Analytica scandal and has said Facebook is “beyond” regulation.
  • Facebook Chief Technology Officer Mike Schroepfer said it is popular to kick Facebook while it’s down, but wants a more sophisticated conversation.

The simmering privacy row between Apple and Facebook spilled over again on Tuesday, as Sheryl Sandberg defended the social network after repeated attacks from Tim Cook.

The Apple CEO has twice needled Facebook over the Cambridge Analytica data fiasco: He played up Apple’s “respectful” approach to personal information earlier this month and in March, said Facebook is “beyond” regulation.

At the Code Conference in California, Facebook COO Sandberg was asked about Cook’s comments, which CEO Mark Zuckerberg has previously described as “extremely glib.”

She said: “Mark [Zuckerberg] and I strongly disagree with their characterisation of our product. We’re proud of the business model we’ve built. We have an ad-supported business, that allows people all around the world to use a product for free.”

Sandberg appeared on stage alongside Chief Technology Officer Mike Schroepfer, who doubled down on her remarks. He said it is popular to give Facebook a kicking and wants a more sophisticated debate about privacy.

“The thing that I wish we could spend more time on is the substance of these issues. Times when you can get nice quippy soundbites and kick someone when it’s popular and they’re down – that’s us right now. I get it, we in many ways deserve it,” he said.

“There’s lots of questions on trade-offs. How do you build a product that the whole world can use? Can every consumer afford a $10 subscription or a $700 device? For billions of people around the world, no, not yet. So I think there are trade offs.”

Schroepfer was referring here to the merits of different tech business models, with companies like Netflix charging a monthly fee in exchange for shows without ads, and Apple charging hundreds of dollars for its hardware.

Schroepfer said the Cambridge Analytica scandal has brought about the biggest cultural shift at Facebook in a decade. “We’re learning from our mistakes and we’re taking action,” Sandberg added. “We’re also humble. We have a different mindset, we have to look around the corner to see the next threat.”

Cook hasn’t been the only tech CEO to lob insults at Facebook. Just minutes before Sandberg took to the stage on Tuesday, Snap CEO Evan Spiegel said “we would really appreciate it if they copied our data protection practices”, a reference to Facebook persistently cloning Snapchat features.

You can watch the full Sheryl Sandberg and Mike Schroepfer interview here:

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