Apple plunged Facebook into chaos when it broke its internal apps, new book reveals

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Facebook owns 4 of the top 10 apps of the past decade
Situation brought Facebook to a near-standstill for employees.
Photo: Ste Smith/Cult of Mac

Apple triggered a “hot war” that compounded ongoing tensions with Facebook when it pulled the social media giant’s enterprise certificate last year. The decision, which temporarily broke all of Facebook’s internal apps, coincided almost exactly with Facebook’s earnings call.

“As [Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg] spoke [on the call], people on Facebook’s campus could not test new products and were canceling meetings because they could not get the shuttle,” writes author Steven Levy in his new book, Facebook: The Inside Story, which is published in hardcover today.

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The difference between Steve Jobs and Tim Cook

Levy’s book covers Facebook’s history from its founding through the present day. The relationship between Apple and Facebook is just one small part of the overall story. But it’s interesting, not least because it contrasts the social media giant’s relationship with Apple CEO Tim Cook with that of his predecessor Steve Jobs.

While Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg got on well enough, with Levy writing that Jobs got “a kick out of [Zuckerberg’s] brash approach,” things have been “chillier” when it comes to Tim Cook and Zuckerberg.

Facebook inside story
Steven Levy’s new book has the inside track on Facebook.
Photo: Blue Rider Press

Levy describes how Zuckerberg “felt sideswiped” by Apple’s reaction after the Cambridge Analytica scandal. Cook, who has pushed for privacy as one of his central tenets at Apple, was asked how he would have behaved if he was in Zuck’s situation. “I wouldn’t be in that situation,” he said.

Levy then quotes Mark Zuckerberg’s response to Tim Cook’s repeated swipes at Facebook’s business model, epitomized by Cook’s assertion that, if you’re not paying for a product, you are the product.

“It’s widely understood that a lot of information businesses or media businesses are supported by ads, to make sure sure that the content can reach as many people as possible to deliver the most value,” Zuckerberg said. “And there is a certain bargain there, which is, you’re going to be able to use this service for free and there will be a cost, which you’ll pay with your attention.”

Tim Cook gave Mark Zuckerberg the brush off

The book notes that Tim Cook does not use Facebook himself. It also details the way Cook “brushed … off” Zuckerberg’s complaints about his comments, including during a sit-down meeting between the two at Apple Park in mid-2018.

The “hot war” incident occurred in January 2019. Apple discovered that Facebook had taken advantage of its Apple developer certificates to distribute a “research” app outside of the App Store. This app violated Apple’s privacy policies. Apple swiftly revoked Facebook’s certification needed for various internal apps to run. This brought much of Facebook’s internal work to a standstill — all while the earnings call was going on, reporting massive gains.

Levy describes the incident as “Facebook’s split-screen moment.” He writes that it symbolized the “disconnect” between Facebook’s erosion of reputation, despite the company continuing to rake in massive amounts of cash.

The definitive story of Facebook

The book launched at midnight last night, and I’ve been working my way through it ever since. My first impressions are that this is the definitive book about Facebook, even better than David Kirkpatrick’s 2010 book The Facebook Effect, which is now several years out of date.

Whether you’re interested in Facebook’s origins (a fictionalized version of which formed the basis of the movie The Social Network), its inner workings or it’s larger impact on the world, this is a compelling read by one of tech’s absolute greatest journalists.

You can buy Facebook: The Inside Story from Amazon here.