While there are many words that you could use to describe Facebook as a company, one that's increasingly come to mind in recent times is 'opportunistic'.
Mostly, this applies to the way Facebook has copied competitors, or released similar functions to blunt their momentum, to varying effect. But Facebook is also now finding more ways to gently nudge decision-makers and policy groups into shifting their attention to where it would prefer, using media momentum and other discussions to highlight certain elements and debates that could ultimately benefit its organization.
Case in point - this week, Facebook has said that it tried to be more transparent with its users as to where any money raised via its new paid events tool will go, with respect to fees and charges implemented by the App Store, but was blocked from doing so by Apple.
As Facebook noted in the launch announcement for its new live events function:
"For transactions on the web, and on Android in countries where we have rolled out Facebook Pay, small businesses will keep 100% of the revenue they generate from paid online events. We asked Apple to reduce its 30% App Store tax or allow us to offer Facebook Pay so we could absorb all costs for businesses struggling during COVID-19. Unfortunately, they dismissed both our requests and SMBs will only be paid 70% of their hard-earned revenue."
As reported by Reuters, Facebook now says that it tried to add a notice in-app to let users know that 30% of any funds they raise via their events will go to the App Store, but Apple refused on the grounds that it's “irrelevant” information.
Facebook provided this statement to Reuters:
“Now more than ever, we should have the option to help people understand where money they intend for small businesses actually goes. Unfortunately Apple rejected our transparency notice around their 30% tax but we are still working to make that information available inside the app experience.”
It's a gentle nudge, which adds just a little more pressure to Apple, which is already being scrutinized over its App Store policies, via an ongoing antitrust investigation in the US.
Apple's also being confronted in a more public manner via a new battle with games developer Epic, which has taken on Apple direct over its imposed 30% cut of any in-app sales via iOS apps.
Indeed, Epic's description of Apple's behavior certainly seeks to make the case the Apple is using using its market dominance in an unfair, and restrictive, way:
"Apple’s policies are so restrictive that they block gaming services like Microsoft xCloud, NVIDIA GeForce NOW, and Google Stadia from existing on iOS. Apple’s policies would have even blocked the World Wide Web if it had been invented after the iPhone, because Apple policies disallow running code not reviewed by Apple, accepting payments directly from customers, and accessing content not reviewed by Apple — all fundamental features of the web. These policies, together with Apple’s chilling enforcement strategy, directly impede innovation and invention of entirely new kinds of apps, games, and businesses."
Epic, which is currently facing various restrictions in the App Store, is planning to challenge Apple in court, which could see Apple eventually forced to change its policy approach.
But then again, it probably won't - Apple will argue that it's free to manage its platform as it deems fit, and that it has the right to take a cut of payments. Developers don't have to use its service, so it's not forcing anyone to adhere to these rules.
But then again, with Apple controlling 50% of the mobile OS market in the US, choosing not to build apps for iOS is basically not an option for many developers.
The Epic case has added more weight to the ongoing antitrust concerns around the company - which brings us back to Facebook, and it's opportunistic nudges.
With renewed emphasis on Apple's policies, Facebook is now looking to add further pointers and notes to help regulators in their consideration of Apple's approach.
- As noted, Facebook has today pointed out that Apple rejected its call for in-app notifications of the App Store's 30% cut on any payments, which not only sees creators taking less money for the work they put in, but also reduces transparency
- Earlier this week, Facebook also noted that new data tracking measures in iOS 14, which is set for release next month, will essentially cripple its Audience Network on iOS. Which hurts SMBs: "We understand that iOS 14 will hurt many of our developers and publishers at an already difficult time for businesses," Facebook explained. "Many of these are small businesses that depend on ads to support their livelihood."
- Earlier this month, Facebook launched a new version of its Facebook Gaming app on iOS, which has been significantly stripped down for iOS devices due to App Store rules which restrict which elements can be included in apps.
Each of these cases is another reminder to regulators, another mark that highlights Apple's rigid policies. And while Facebook isn't taking such dramatic measures as Epic Games, and removing its apps and functions entirely, you can see how Facebook is using the additional media coverage around the Epic situation as a means to add more pressure to the situation, and Apple itself, amid the rising debate.
Interestingly, Facebook has also reportedly undertaken similar measures to sow fears about rising competitor TikTok.
According to The Wall Street Journal, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, in various meetings with US politicians last year, sought to highlight concerns about the app's ties to the Chinese Government. These meetings were conducted before any official investigations into TikTok had been announced.
As per WSJ, Zuckerberg met with several senators, in which he pointed out TikTok's obligations and links. Zuckerberg also made the same case to US President Donald Trump during a private dinner last October, emphasizing the threat that Chinese internet companies pose to American businesses.
The US Government announced a national security investigation into TikTok in November, just weeks after Zuckerberg's push.
It's interesting to note the timeline, and how that could relate to Facebook's latest actions to stoke concerns with Apple's policies. It also raises questions as to the potential connections between Facebook and US senators. Facebook has been notoriously lenient on posts from US President Donald Trump, for example, even going so far as to give Trump the benefit of the doubt on his controversial 'when the looting starts, the shooting starts' comment in relation to the #BlackLivesMatter protests.
As per Zuckerberg:
"The President later posted again, saying that the original post was warning about the possibility that looting could lead to violence. We decided that this post, which explicitly discouraged violence, also does not violate our policies and is important for people to see."
Which is interesting, right? Most other users would not get a chance to explain themselves, or provide more context. Of course, the US President is in a different category to regular users anyway, but it is worth noting the subtle connections and links that Facebook seems to increasingly be using to help advance its agenda in varying forms.