Apple was right not to run a social network

Witnessing the madness of “King twit” and the data-munching journey of that monarch’s latest competitor in the race to commoditize communication, I’m glad Apple at least put some priority on privacy when no one else in Big Tech chose to.

As of today, you have what seems to be impending bankruptcy looming above Twitter, which once was seen as “the world’s town square.” You can’t help but wonder who will own all that precious demographic and user data once the thundercloud breaks.

Sewing up Twitter

In the other corner, you have Meta’s Threads, the latest competitor for the micro-blogging kingdom getting off to a really strong start, with millions already signed up.

Except that’s not the case in the EU, where citizens are now protected by strong laws that protect the data Meta seems to see as fundamental to its business plan— as if the exploitation of its solutions hasn’t already allegedly been implicated in creating instability across multiple democracies.

Never let the facts get in the way of a good story, of course — the tech press, including those who should know better, are already extolling all the virtues of Twitter’s tailor-inspired competitor..

(Are individual conversations in Threads woven or sewn? Is the solution to use of Twitter by human rights campaigners in authoritarian regimes really a social media account inexorably tied to your identity?)

Turning data into meh

At a time when the UK leader of the opposition seems to think pronouncing “scone” correctly is the solution for climate change, we read there’s already so much junk left in space there’s a chance all those satellites Apple and others are betting the future of communications on are going to have to learn to dodge as effectively as a pedestrian chicken-running across Highway 401. Kessler Syndrome just got real — ask ChatGPT for some facts about that, but don’t be too surprised if those words are plagiarized.

What a time to be alive! The digital transformation of everything makes data out of everyone.

There are amazing opportunities for us all in that, of course, in terms of automated improvements and augmenting human lives, but the delicate dance between turning data into ta-da and transforming personal information into private profit hasn’t yet been realized.

Getting the balance – wrong?

One thing we do know is that privacy is a fundamental beat that needs to be protected to get that cadence right. The dilemma will always be in understanding the point at which convenience becomes dystopia. That’s certainly a central concern to how Apple handles the information it collects, repeating as often as it can that it only gathers just enough to make its services work. Though with that in mind, I can’t quite understand why a list of all the places I visit most often is deeply buried in one of the most obscure parts of Apple’s System Settings menu.

Steve Jobs got it right when he (presumably) declined to create an Apple social media service. Perhaps he had a premonition that when you run the world’s town square, you end up needing to find some way to balance all the opinions on the planet, including those for which humans have killed each other since the dawn of time.

If we can’t figure out how to have polite disagreements IRL., how would we ever strike such balance online? How do you create a balance between government and free speech? And when does free speech become a cover for misogyny, elitism, or homophobia?

Is it safe?

My dear MySpace friend (he was everybody’s friend, really), Tom Anderson, perhaps saw this coming when he sold his invention to News Corp for half a billion in 2005. In truth, free speech absolutism seems to have engendered its own toxic stew, limited to a few hundred messages a day delivered with an imagined background hum I can easily convince myself was played by another emperor during the collapse of Rome.

Meanwhile, those angels with goggle-clad faces over in Cupertino are working toward usefully combining the best of the digital world to augment real-world experiences, and I expect some of the challenges of social media will be encountered on that journey, too. That’s especially true  if right-wing governments force a backdoor into digital devices before Apple’s next big product even ships.

Please follow me on Mastodon, or join me in the AppleHolic’s bar & grill and Apple Discussions groups on MeWe.

Copyright © 2023 IDG Communications, Inc.


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