When Apple announced in June that it would start asking apps for permission before locating users, it was applauded by private lawyers. The idea was that if you want to collect the personal information of the people who use your programs and make money from it, then you just have to be transparent and ask first.
Along with the recent requirement that apps provide detailed information about the data they collect and share, the upcoming iOS 14 feature is a positive step if you are interested in protecting privacy. This will make it harder for digital advertising platforms like Facebook to target ads based on their online activity, but it’s hard to argue that transparency is a bad thing.
That doesn’t mean Facebook didn’t try. The company has taken out two full-page print ads in three of the major newspapers, accusing Apple of being anti-small business, and a threat to the ‘free internet’. I wrote about the ads and the overall response to it, so I will not discuss it here.
Amid the battle between Facebook and Apple over privacy, it would have been easy to miss what I think is a much more important piece of the story. I think the reaction of Apple CEO Tim Cook is the most interesting aspect and is an example for every leader. In fact, I think his response is perhaps the best example of emotional intelligence I have ever seen.
Emotional intelligence is the ability to recognize your emotional response to something, evaluate the thoughts that led to it, and make intentional choices about how you respond. People with low emotional intelligence tend to skip that middle step, and rather respond from their emotions, often to the detriment of themselves and the people who depend on them.
This is just as true for CEOs as it is for anyone else. In fact, it can be even harder to manifest emotional intelligence if your company is attacked in a very public way. No matter if you run a huge business that directly affects the lives of billions of people, it would be easy to get irritated and frustrated when a competitor forces you to misrepresent your position and actions.
In this case, the answer does 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 responded directly to an attack by another multi-billion dollar company, Facebook, whose founder and CEO is the fifth richest person in the world.
We have previously responded on Twitter to CEOs. It does not always go well. Sometimes it just makes the situation worse.
Cook, on the other hand, is known as an extremely reticent and collected communicator. He does not tend to get involved in public spaces.
No offense to Cook, but his public statements are usually quite ordinary. His Twitter account in particular is a series of posts about Apple’s products, his commitment to various businesses, or other company announcements. When Cook says, “Facebook can continue to track users on apps and websites,” he just needs to “ask your permission first,” that’s just as many burns as you’re going to get.
That he got involved in responding to Facebook tells us how important privacy really is to Apple. It is important for the CEO to set the record.
More importantly, however, it is a perfect model to respond to when you are attacked. This is why:
Facebook used nearly 1,000 words between the two ads and spent a lot of money getting them in front of people. This has created a doomsday scenario where small businesses – and the internet as we know it – will collapse under the weight of Apple’s change to iOS 14. It paints a picture of a large average business that users are on the verge of would force to make a change. it will be bad for everyone.
Cook, on the other hand, used only 47 words to respond. He did it on a free social media platform where at the time I am writing it it has been ‘liked’ more than 110,000 times.
In the short answer, he was not angry or argumentative. He did not insult anyone and did not over-dramatize anything. Instead, he responded in person, saying what Apple believes, explaining why it matters to users, and explaining what would actually change. This is exactly the way every leader should react when attacked.