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Apple Really Doesn't Want You to Install Facebook
Imagine you bought a new iPhone and decided to set it up from scratch instead of restoring an old backup. What's the first app you download? For many people, it's probably Gmail, or Amazon, or Netflix. Beyond that, it would seem logical to look for suggestions in the App Store, right?
Apple, in fact, has a list of "must-have" apps in the App Store. If you're just getting started or are looking for apps that Apple thinks will add value to your experience on an iPhone, there's a list for that. Of course, since it's curated, it's not necessarily a list of the most popular downloads. It's the list of apps the iPhone-maker thinks every user should install.
Interestingly, there are three apps missing from the list: Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp. That's a pretty big omission considering each of those apps has more than a billion users, and is arguably the most popular app in their respective categories.
Of course, all three apps are also owned by Meta, which used to be called Facebook before the company thought changing its name would help deflect from all the negative attention it receives. We'll ignore, for now, the fact that the reason it receives so much negative attention isn't because of its name.
On the contrary, it's because of its behavior--like the way it tracks pretty much everything you do online and then uses that information to show you ads, for example. Apple, on the other hand, makes a point of the fact that it doesn't collect and share user data with third-parties, and talks often about how it views privacy as a "fundamental human right."
Last year, Apple rolled out changes to iOS, the software that powers the iPhone, that requires developers to request permission before they're allowed to track users. That put a hurt on Facebook's business. At the time, the world's largest social media platform took out full-page ads in major newspapers warning that Apple was a threat to the open internet and was intentionally harming small businesses.
Hyperbole aside, it's fair to say that the two companies aren't exactly friends. Which explains why Apple isn't especially interested in encouraging people to download Facebook regardless of how many people are going to do so anyway.
As if that weren't enough proof of how Apple feels, the first four apps on the list are Snapchat, TikTok, YouTube, and Google. If you made a list of Facebook's four main competitors--this is that list. Also included are Pinterest, LinkedIn, Twitch, and a handful of streaming services (though not Netflix or Spotify).
There are two lessons here, and I think both are important. The first is that Facebook has a far bigger problem than the company wants to admit. Changing its name didn't change anything about what was wrong with Facebook. It might still be popular, but Apple would very much rather you not install it on your device. It can't stop you from doing so, but it's definitely not going to encourage you either.
I don't know whether it's possible to fix what's wrong with Facebook, but the company doesn't seem to be trying. Instead, it complains that its problems are someone else's fault.
Look no further than the news that the company paid political operatives to plant stories damaging to TikTok, its biggest rival. Or, the fact that, according to The Verge, the company "failed to properly demote probable nudity, violence, and even Russian state media," over a six-month period. Facebook attributed that to a "bug."
A quick look at Facebook/Meta's response to any of a number of controversies shows not a company willing to take responsibility and be held accountable, but one that is always looking to pass the blame elsewhere. That's a problem.
And, despite Meta's grand vision of becoming a metaverse company, it still depends very much on the ad revenue it generates from iOS users to fund that strategy. Apple has enormous control over Facebook's destiny and you might think some corporate relationship management between the two companies might go a long way.
That gets to the other lesson, which is that Apple has a lot of control over the App Store and should be very careful how it uses it. Right now the company faces enormous pressure from regulators and lawmakers over that control. Excluding Netflix and Spotify are especially curious since they are the de facto streaming services for video and audio, respectively.
Of course, neither allows users to sign up within the app, which means Apple doesn't get to collect its cut from subscriptions. The fact that it is curating a "must-have" list and leaving out the obvious choices--just because it doesn't benefit them financially--just makes the company look vindictive. For the most valuable company on earth, that's never a good look.
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