Privacy? Never Heard of It – Tech Giants Battle While Consumers Pay the Price - Fordham Intellectual Property, Media & Entertainment Law Journal
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Privacy? Never Heard of It – Tech Giants Battle While Consumers Pay the Price

Privacy? Never Heard of It – Tech Giants Battle While Consumers Pay the Price

As social media has taken over our lives, we often sacrifice what seems to be meaningless information for the price of convenience. Yet do we really know what it means when we click “OK” or “Accept” to the ‘Updated Privacy Policy’ and ‘Cookie Use’ for these websites?

Within 2018, billions of consumers’ accounts and personal information were released in just the top twenty-one data breaches that occurred.1 Data breaches are worrisome for tech companies, as they fear having to deal not only with financial implications, but a loss of customers’ trust.2

Yet even with those risks, companies like Facebook seem to view advertising revenue as more valuable than a loyal consumer base. Apple attempts to maintain a better reputation, and in recent weeks has been seen going after big tech companies that are not prioritizing privacy. Most recently, Apple penalized Facebook and Google over a type of issue we are sure to see again. Facebook distributed a market-research app using Apple’s software, called Facebook Research, where users, including teenagers, opted in to allow Facebook access to everything in their phones.3 The information Facebook gathered included encrypted messages, browsing history, location data, and other forms of tracking data.4 Google’s use of the software was for an app called Screenwise Meter, enabling “users to earn gift cards by allowing Google to access their data” through the installation of a certificate that granted Google root access.5 Even though the users granted permission, Apple shut it down, as it only intended for developers to use this technology and believed both Facebook and Google infringed on its privacy policy.6

Facebook and Google have both removed the technology from their software. Google apologized for its “mistake;” Facebook has yet to issue any sort of apology.7 Facebook views its platform as something that is the only “rational model” for all types of users, since there is no sign-up fee or any other “costs” for users to use the platform.8 This sends the message that Facebook believes it should not be subject to stricter privacy laws, due to the public benefit it adds through technology.

Does having no monetary costs mean Facebook can do whatever it pleases with consumers’ information, though? Regardless of the $0 sign-up fee, there is a cost to user privacy. It is evident that Facebook made the decision that the cost-benefit analysis works in the consumers’ favor, without fully explaining that cost to its users. Facebook sells its consumers’ information for profit at the price of our privacy. Without the advertisement revenue, Facebook would not be seeing its shares surge, as evidenced by its fourth quarter reports, demonstrating the company’s need to prioritize advertisement revenue over privacy rights.9

Apple isn’t the knight in shining armor protecting its users though, as it might want the public to perceive the company. Through these recent penalties, Apple was “flexing its muscles” when shutting down the software in which Facebook and Google depended on. Apple was demonstrating that it had control over this monopolistic market, the App Store, and if Facebook, Google, or any other big tech company doesn’t comply with its privacy rules, Apple can shut them out.10 These recent events typify the ongoing battles that exists between the major tech companies, including Apple, Facebook, Twitter, and Amazon, trying “prove that they are the company that treats consumers better.”11

One cannot look past the fact that just a day before this clash with Facebook and Google, Apple experienced a major embarrassment itself. It was discovered that people can “spy” and “listen in” on other people’s conversations through a bug in the FaceTime feature of the phone.12 This perfectly exemplifies that privacy has the capability of being non-existent in the world of technology, and the only way to limit what these companies have access to is through enacting stronger privacy laws.

Our information details how we explore the internet, where we travel, where we want to travel, what we buy, who we talk to, what we look at—essentially granting these big tech companies a window into our entire lives. The cyberworld can lead to grave consequences and new legislation needs to be put into place to allow consumers to protect their own privacy, maintaining their freedom in this digitized, tracking world.

At the end of the day, each one of these tech giants has been raking in billions in advertisement revenue, and it doesn’t seem to be stopping any time soon. Advertisement revenue is a direct result of selling consumers’ information. The European Union has taken large strides to protect their citizens’ data through the GDPR, while California is attempting to follow close behind with the California Consumer Privacy Act of 2018.13 Yet for the other 49 states and the United States as a whole, legislation needs to be passed on a federal level in order to truly reign these big tech companies in and protect our data. Our privacy is what is at stake, and the repercussions will be seen in the near future if new legislation is not passed.


  1. Paige Leskin, The 21 sScariest Data Breaches of 2018, BUS. INSIDER (Dec. 30, 2018, 10:42 AM), https://www.businessinsider.com/data-hacks-breaches-biggest-of-2018-2018-12. [https://perma.cc/P2DN-8ENV]

  2. Annabelle Graham, The Damaging After-Effects of a data breach, IT GOVERNANCE BLOG (Dec. 18, 2017), https://www.itgovernance.co.uk/blog/the-damaging-after-effects-of-a-data-breach. [https://perma.cc/EKK8-KBXM]

  3. Rebecca Joseph, Apple v. Facebook and Google: What Has the Tech Superpowers Feuding, GLOBAL NEWS (Feb. 1, 2019, 2:57 PM), https://globalnews.ca/news/4915887/apple-facebook-google-privacy-feud/ [https://perma.cc/XP8S-NCKV]

  4. Id.

  5. Joseph, supra note 2.

  6. Christopher Mims, Apple’s Cold War Over Privacy Turns Hot, WALL ST. J. (Feb. 2, 2019, 12:00 AM), https://www.wsj.com/articles/apples-cold-war-over-privacy-turns-hot-11549083606?mod=hp_listb_pos1. [https://perma.cc/2CLD-2HWA]

  7. Id.

  8. Mims, supra note 4.

  9. Sarah Frier, Facebook’s Shares Surge as Advertisers Ignore Scandals, BLOOMBERG.COM (Jan. 30, 2019, 4:11 PM), https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-01-30/facebook-sales-profit-beat-wall-street-estimates-shares-surge.

  10. Mims, supra note 4.[/foonote] By having this control, consumers can easily get caught in the crosshairs of Apple’s battles, by eliminating consumers’ access to applications the deem as non-compliant.[footnote]Id.

  11. McHugh, supra note 8.

  12. Molly McHugh, The Apple v. Facebook Privacy Wars Are Reaching a Tipping Point, THERINGER.COM (Jan. 31, 2019, 12:37 PM), https://www.theringer.com/tech/2019/1/31/18205411/facebook-research-app-vpn-apple-facetime-bug-privacy-regulations. [https://perma.cc/YYJ7-M6RR]

  13. Peter Loshin, Is the new California privacy law a domestic GDPR?, TECHTARGET.COM (July 17, 2018), https://searchsecurity.techtarget.com/blog/Security-Bytes/Is-the-new-California-privacy-law-a-domestic-GDPR. [https://perma.cc/S68D-V5GG]

Hayley Leviashvili

Hayley Leviashvili is a second-year law student at Fordham University School of Law, and a staff member of the Intellectual Property, Media & Entertainment Law Journal. She holds a B.A. in International Relations and Global Business from the University of Southern California (USC). She is passionate about privacy and entertainment law, previously interning at Warner Bros. and Christie’s, and currently volunteering with the Privacy Educator Program through Fordham’s Center on Law and Information Policy.