The public spat between Apple and Facebook appears to be headed to the next level. Recent rumors indicate CEO Mark Zuckerberg told his staff about the need for their company to hit back at Apple over its privacy changes, sources revealed to Wall Street Journal.

While there has always been tension between the two tech giants, it seemed to have reached a fever pitch when Apple announced it is instituting privacy changes in all its devices. These changes include requiring apps to seek the permission of iOS owners before tracking them for advertising purposes.

Apple's privacy changes could severely affect the revenue generation of many iOS developers, including Facebook, which reportedly relies heavily on targeted advertisements. While the word war between the two tech giants generally remained professional, Zuckerberg and Apple CEO Tim Cook appeared to take potshots at each other whenever an opportunity arises. In December of last year, Facebook launched an ad campaign against Apple's new iOS and iPadOS saying that the privacy changes brought by these software updates would hurt small businesses.

In January, during Facebook's earnings call, the social media giant's CEO referred to Apple as the company's biggest threat at present, MacRumors revealed. He also claimed Apple is using its influence to meddle with how the social media giant runs its own apps. Recently, rumors surfaced about an outraged Zuckerberg telling his inner circle at Facebook that their company needs to "inflict pain" on the Cupertino tech giant.

In an apparent response to Zuckerberg's public comments last month, Cook's speech during the Computers, Privacy, and Data Protection conference appeared to condemn Facebook and its business practices. Apple's chief said that the business model of Facebook regarding engagement maximisation often leads to division, and ultimately, violence. Cook cited the likely role of Facebook during the January 6 bloody demonstration at the US Capitol and also blamed the social media giant's inability to stop the spread of conspiracy theories.

Despite the seemingly personal attacks, Facebook spokesperson Dani Lever, in a statement sent to the media, dismissed the notion that the tension between the two tech giants is getting personal. She looks at it as a simple and healthy discussion "about the future of the free Internet."

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg is to face a grilling by the Senate over politically charged content on his platorm: but current and former Facebook content moderators say their voices are all too often ignored. Photo: AFP / ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS

Facebook's spokesperson also reiterated Zuckerberg's position that Apple's privacy changes are about increasing revenue and not about preserving user privacy. She also revealed that Facebook would soon join others in highlighting the "self-preferencing, anticompetitive behavior" of Apple. The Cupertino tech giant declined to comment on the report and on the statements made by Facebook's spokesperson.