When Apple announced in June that it would begin requiring apps to ask permission before tracking users, it was applauded by privacy advocates. The idea was that if you want to collect and monetize the personal information of the people who use your apps, you can, you just have to be transparent about it, and ask first.
Combined with the recent requirement for apps to provide detailed information about the data they collect and share, the upcoming iOS 14 feature is a positive step if you care about protecting your privacy. Sure, it will make it harder for digital advertising platforms like Facebook to target ads to users based on their online activity, but it̵
That does not mean that Facebook did not try. The company took out two full-page print ads in three of the major newspapers, accusing Apple of being anti-small business, and a threat to “free internet”. I have written about the ads, and the general response to them, so I will not go through it here.
In the midst of the battle between Facebook and Apple over privacy, it would have been easy to miss what I think is a much more important part of the story. I think the response from Apple CEO Tim Cook is the most interesting aspect and is an example for any leader. In fact, I think his answer is perhaps the best example of emotional intelligence I have ever seen.
Emotional intelligence is the ability to recognize your emotional reaction to something, evaluate the thoughts that led to those feelings, and make informed choices about how you will react. People with low emotional intelligence tend to skip the middle step, and instead respond from their emotions, often to the detriment of themselves and the people who depend on them.
This applies to CEOs as well as it does to everyone else. In fact, it can even be more difficult to show emotional intelligence when your company is attacked in a very public way. Keep in mind that if you run a huge company that directly affects the lives of billions of people, it would be easy to get annoyed and frustrated when a competitor tries to misrepresent your position and actions.
In this case, the answer did not come from a PR statement. It was not tweeted from a generic, faceless company account. This was from the CEO of the most valuable company on earth, Apple, which directly responded to an attack from another multi-billion dollar company, Facebook, whose founder and CEO is the fifth richest person in the world.
We have seen CEOs respond to Twitter before. It does not always go well. Sometimes it just ends up making the situation much worse.
Cook, on the other hand, is known for being an extremely reserved and collected communicator. He does not tend to get involved in public spaces.
No offense against Cook, but his public statements are usually quite common. In particular, his Twitter account is a series of posts about Apple products, its commitment to various causes or other announcements from the company. When Cook says, “Facebook can continue to track users across apps and websites,” it just has to “ask your permission first,” that’s about as much burning as you’re going to get.
That he got involved in responding to Facebook tells us how important privacy really is to Apple. It means enough for the CEO to set the record.
More importantly, however, it is a perfect model for how to respond when under attack. Here’s why:
Facebook used almost 1000 words between the two ads, and spent a lot of money getting them in front of people. It created a doomsday scenario where small businesses – and the internet as we know it – would collapse under the weight of Apple’s change to iOS 14. It painted a picture of a large middle business that was forcing users to make a change it would bad for everyone.
Cook, on the other hand, used only 47 words to answer. He did it on a free social media platform where by the time I wrote this, it had been “liked” over 110,000 times.
In the short answer, he was not angry or argumentative. He insulted no one, and did not overdramatize anything. Instead, he responded in person, stating what Apple thought, explaining why it matters to users, and clarifying what would actually change. This is exactly how each leader should respond when he is under attack.