Why Apple is Fighting For Our Data Security
The United States Government has asked Apple to unlock an iPhone used by one of the attackers who killed 14 people in San Bernardino, California. Yesterday, Apple challenged the order of the Federal Court, which led to many reactions both in the company’s defense and in opposition of its stance. Whatever your position on the matter, there are a few things that you can be sure Tim Cook and Apple’s top brass are keeping in mind as stewards of the world’s most valuable and most relevant brand.
It’s not about one customer. It’s about one billion customers.
Apple hasn’t been ordered to create a decryption key that would enable it or the FBI to gain access to just one phone. Apple has essentially been asked to create a skeleton key that would bypass or disable the feature which automatically wipes an iPhone clean of all of its data after 10 incorrect password attempts.
This currently non-existent “back door” would allow the government to carry out a brute force attack, using computer software to try password combinations until the phone became unlocked. It might sound well and good but if this skeleton key somehow passed into the public domain, it could spread like a virus among hacker communities and render any of the billion plus iPhone customers vulnerable. Apple knows if it creates a workaround for one customer’s phone, the mechanism could one day be used by people with harmful intentions. And it can’t take that chance.
Trust matters. And Apple has it.
As I’ve indicated in past articles, the reason some technology companies didn’t score higher in Prophet’s Brand Relevance Index is that they suffer from a lack of consumer trust. Not Apple. They are the #1 brand overall in the index, and they are the #1 trusted brand in the Index. It’s a hard-won position, especially for a company that had to completely reinvent itself less than two decades ago, in a category that is overwhelmingly not trusted. For Apple to renounce the safeguards it upholds on user accounts now – even in the context of an extremely sensitive political, legal, and emotional situation – would be to disregard the consumers who’ve placed their trust in the brand.
Apple can still make a difference.
Even if Apple appeals and ultimately does not comply with the government’s request, the company can take measures to ensure it helps to advance the public good. For example, Tim Cook and Apple’s legal team could take steps to amend Apple’s terms of service to stipulate that being found guilty of criminal charges may subject an owner’s device to a loss of previously encrypted or private data. Or, it could offer to bring the phone back in-house and do what it can without decrypting the data to determine if any information can be safely handed over to the FBI. There will always be those who say in the name of patriotism that Apple is obliged to do anything it can to help – in its responses, Apple needs to be measured, logical, and consistent.
Apple has done the entire technology category a tremendous favor – just take a look at the stock market in the hours following the release of Tim Cook’s letter yesterday, where the NASDAQ outperformed the S&P by nearly a full percentage point. The company simply doesn’t want to set a precedent for saying yes to these types of requests, because more will inevitably follow and the likes of Apple, Google, Amazon, Facebook and Twitter will have more compliance requests than they could possibly manage. It fundamentally comes down to trust. Apple knows that, Apple has that… and as a great brand, it knows what it takes to keep it.