How Mark Zuckerberg and Apple’s C.E.O. Grew to become Foes

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“It really spoke of the power of Apple to control the operating system,” said Brian Wieser, president of business intelligence for GroupM, an advertising company. “Facebook is not in control of its own destiny.”

At Facebook, Apple’s privacy practices were viewed as hypocritical, said three current and former Facebook employees. Apple has long had a lucrative agreement with Google to integrate Google’s data-hungry search engine into Apple products, for example. Facebook executives also noted that Apple was rooted in China, where the government is monitoring its citizens.

Privately, Mr. Zuckerberg told his lieutenants that Facebook “must cause pain to Apple and Mr. Cook,” said one person familiar with the discussions. The Wall Street Journal previously reported Mr. Zuckerberg’s comment.

This work had already started behind the scenes. In 2017, Facebook expanded its work with Definers Public Affairs, a Washington company that specializes in opposition research against its clients’ political enemies. Definers’ staff circulated research on Apple’s compromises in China to reporters, and a Definers-affiliated website published articles criticizing Mr. Cook, according to documents and former employees of Definers.

Definers also launched an “Astroturfing” campaign to draw Mr. Cook as a presidential candidate for 2020, presumably to put him in President Trump’s crosshairs, the New York Times reported in 2018. A website, “Draft Tim Cook 2020,” Contained a high priority quote from the CEO and an exemplary campaign platform for him. They linked data behind the website to Definers.

(Definers’ work against Apple was also funded by Qualcomm, another Apple rival, according to a Definers employee. Facebook fired Definers after The Times reported on its activities.)

Apple and Facebook have also started competing in other areas, including messaging, mobile gaming, and mixed reality headsets, which are essentially glasses that blend digital images into a person’s view of the world.