The Coming Tech War Between Apple and Facebook Will Ensnare Black Personhood
The deep inward and outward silence Apple and Facebook display toward Blackness hints at the fate they feel awaits my people.
According to the tech world, Tim Cook has declared war on Facebook.
In a recent GQ interview, the Apple CEO came out against the “Data Industrial Complex.” “Too many people are just tracking [without our consent], and people either are not aware of it, or they’re not aware of the extent of it,” Cook argues. “And so what we’re trying to do is sort of bring it back to people, and give people the power, give people the choice.”
Cook is steering Apple toward giving its customers greater control over privacy and data for philosophical and political reasons. “We’re getting a lot of feedback from users that they want the power to make a choice…so that’s what we’re supplying, is the tool to do that,” he claimed about recent design decisions on the iOS ecosystem to make apps ask for permission to share sensitive data. Without implementing such constraints, Cook worries that “the tools that are being used to develop a 360-degree view of people’s lives are the same tools that are used to target them to form extremist groups, or to organize to ransack the Capitol, or whatever the situation may be. And these are not separate kinds of things. They’re the same thing. They’re manipulating people’s behavior.”
White people are litigious. Because they are careful when they throw shade at one another, Cook’s statement was as direct as he could be about the malignant impact Facebook is having on technology and the polity in which they both possess an elevated membership status. The media and watchdogs have criticized Mark Zuckerberg’s company for allowing extremist, right-wing groups such as QAnon to proliferate freely on Facebook. Representatives within the organization pushed back against that perception, with chief operations officer Sheryl Sandberg claiming that events such as the sacking of the Capitol “were largely organized on platforms that don’t have our abilities to stop hate, don’t have our standards and don’t have our transparency.”
Sandberg seeks to deflect the charge that Facebook has become an anti-Black platform, despite the company shutting down efforts to recognize racial bias within its AI that blocks users for racist statements. Consequently, Black users are automatically blocked more frequently than white users — and it was one group of these users exclusively who sacked the Capitol on January 6th, 2021.
Both Apple and Facebook dance around the anti-Blackness that is the subtext of their conflict. “No policy decision could be understood without the black topic at its center, even or especially when unmentioned. Not housing, not education, the military, economy, voting, citizenship, prisons, loan practices, health care — name it, the real subject was what to do with black people,” the ancestor Toni Morrison wrote before her passing. White people are intelligent enough to avoid a true understanding of what ails their psyches. Their easy, avoidant way of framing the tech war to come between Apple and Facebook is to say it is between hardware and software. However, such a mammoth struggle is always going to have a determining force on how Blackness lives and loves in the future.
Years ago, Apple staunchly opposed government efforts to gain access to their technology. In 2015, a terrorist opened fire at his workplace in San Bernardino, CA, and murdered 14 people. The FBI and the courts produced a writ demanding that Apple created a skeleton key version of iOs 8 to allow law enforcement unlimited cracks at breaking into the assailant’s iPhone. Cook and his legal team refused, fully cognizant of the opportunistic nature of cybercrime. Knowing that if Apple created such a workaround, it would eventually be stolen and used against the millions of its global hardware users.
The conflict sparked a national debate, with the most anti-Black presidential candidate in modern times using it as red meat to feed his base. Ultimately, law enforcement found their way into the phone without Apple’s help or indentured servitude. The privacy concerns remain unsettled.
The iPhone has become the most powerful tool in the movement for Black lives. We could not be there when George Zimmerman blasted the life out of Trayvon Martin after losing a fight he instigated. But because of the technological revolution that Cook and Apple inaugurated, we could be there for Korryn Gaines, Alton Sterling, Philando Castle, George Floyd, and Jacob Blake. Right-wingers and white folk on the MAGA Train often call supports of Black Lives Matter terrorists, demonizing our peaceful protests while also couching their rioting at the Capitol in terms of patriotism. Yet, again, the video and streaming technology Apple created reveals them for the frauds that these racist rioters are.
No one can talk about policing without linking it to Blackness. Apple’s silence here is depressing, especially given the categorical advantage its link to privacy will give it over Facebook in the tech wars to come. Today’s terrorist, as the saying goes, is tomorrow’s freedom fighter. Still, white people will never allow that adage to apply to Black people, who are called terrorists for demanding police stop killing them, and who fight for the simple freedom of being able to live and love outside the crosshairs of police shooters.
Yet Apple is reluctant to put its power, reputation, and fortune into the ring in any serious inward or outward action. Like many other companies, they have made gestures toward the importance of Black lives. But as of this writing, they have no Black leadership at the C level. No one in the board room can truly push them to think about how their tech can help resist the increasingly destructive drift of white people toward Black personhood and our striving to make sure the nation finally is honest in the pursuit of its creeds. Instead, we get awkward videos of Black women dancing in front of Confederate statues. “Flexing clapbacks” is not enough to eliminate white supremacy. If white people can redeem capitalism, Apple and other tech companies will have to work harder.
It will have to work harder than Facebook, which works to become the Internet for the developing Black world. CNN recently reported that Mark Zuckerberg had taken a keen interest in the Continent. After his 2016 visit to Nigeria, his company began opening offices in South Africa and, most recently, Lagos. Facebook is also leading an effort to develop the continent's Internet infrastructure, encircling Africa with undersea cables that will, long term, allow most of its population access to 4G and 5G cellular networks.
Facebook seeks to connect Africa to the world via Facebook, where the Continent’s inhabitants would have access to their version of the Internet that they have populated with discriminatory AIs and a right-wing promoting ecosystem. Given that Facebook can run both on iOs and Android operating systems, they have a market share advantage over Apple, making its ensnarement of Africa's easier.
Blackness is the subtext between the looming tech war between Apple and Facebook. Apple does not fully understand and protect Blackness, despite the hardware transforming how we hold police accountable and defend our lives; Facebook seeks to exploit Blackness, becoming the way an entire continent accesses the Internet via a gateway that is hostile to their existence. As in all wars, they will ask Black folk to take sides with a combatant that does not really value us. They feel we are fated to acquiesce to their lead in exchange for their offers of privacy and access to the Internet.
I cannot predict the future. But Blackness will shape it. As Cook and Zuckerburg prepare to war with each other, we can heed Morrison's words and demand the both of them address the people they feel have no agency in their decisions. Can Cook state directly that his technology is in defense of Black lives? Can Zuckerburg banish the racism that is the ghost in Facebook’s machine? The future of Blackness and technology depends on their commitments.