You might have noticed a flurry of recent news stories about Apple being attacked for its commitment to protect the privacy of its customers by using end-to-end encryption. Various law enforcement officials and politicians have criticized Apple for making it clear that user privacy trumps fears over terrorism and other issues, and some in the media have stupidly jumped on the anti-Apple bandwagon.
Patently Apple is a blog that focuses on Apple's patents. It's quite an interesting site, and can sometimes offer clues as to where Apple is going in its future products. But Patently Apple recently published an editorial that also attacked Apple for protecting the privacy of its users.
I must admit to being rather surprised to see this editorial, I had not at all expected it to appear on Patently Apple. The site's main focus is patents, and it does a very good job in covering them. But it stumbled badly by attacking Apple in its editorial about end-to-end encryption in the company's products.
I'll share my thoughts below, but here's a sample of what Jack Purcher at Patently Apple had to say about encryption and Apple:
While this clash between Apple and the U.S. Government has been long in the making, the fact that ISIS is now actively seeking to hit the homelands of the countries now fighting them in the Middle East has changed the conversation. Since the California terrorist attack, poll after poll after poll have shown that the majority of American citizens fear that more terrorist attacks are likely to occur. But Apple isn't listening. To them it's a temporary and minor sideshow getting in the way of their product road-maps.
In Apple's response noted by the UK's Guardian, they officially noted that "We believe it would be wrong to weaken security for hundreds of millions of law-abiding customers so that it will also be weaker for the very few who pose a threat." Yet the 'very few' could take the lives of many of our loved ones and Apple's downplaying this comes off as pure greed. I don't hear concern; I hear annoyance on Apple's part.
Apple's CEO is trying to save Apple's work and what it means for Apple in the future with Apple Pay and beyond. Apple's Tim Cook just keeps on making it a mission to go against the grain and loudly so. Instead of battling this quietly behind the scenes, Tim Cook wants to make it a public battle. For some, like Apple cultists and shareholders, it's a crusade. For others, it's greedy Apple trying to act out like Steve Jobs with his Pirate flag all over again – even though the times have changed.
Even though end-to-end encryption is rather new to Apple's consumer products, they refuse to backtrack on this feature. I personally lived without end-to-end encryption my entire adult life, and so it's no big deal for me who has no interest in Apple Pay beyond paying for simply sundries. But it obviously puts a crimp in Apple's plans, especially in the enterprise market, and so Tim Cook is out to fight this tooth and nail regardless of consumer sentiment at the moment.
Fear should not trump the right of Apple's customers to privacy
As you can tell from the snippet I included, Purcher is letting fear get the best of him while unconvincingly trying to argue that Apple should change its policy about encryption because of his perception of public sentiment about terrorism. Since when does Apple suddenly shift its position on such an important issue because of the results of some public opinion polls?
As far as terrorism goes, remember the bombing in Boston? The U.S. government was aware of the two killers before the bombing happened. And yet nothing was done to monitor and prevent them from murdering and maiming people at the Boston Marathon. End-to-end encryption wouldn't have stopped that awful attack from happening.
And while Jack Purcher might not care about having his data and communications encrypted, many of us do and it's one of the reasons why we buy Apple's products and use the company's services. Privacy is a big deal for Apple's customers and we like the fact that we can rely on Apple to protect us from government intrusion into our communications.
Apple's credibility would be shredded if it stopped using encryption
I cannot imagine a dumber thing for Tim Cook and Apple to do then to backtrack on the company's privacy guarantees because folks like Purcher are wringing their hands in fear of terrorists. It would destroy Apple's public credibility and it would undercut Apple's position on a variety of other issues and technologies. After all, if Apple suddenly removed end to end encryption, what else would they do that might violate the company's long held principles?
It's really hard for me to believe that a site that writes about Apple constantly could try to argue that Tim Cook is wrong on the issue of encryption. Not only is he right but he speaks for millions and millions of us who want our data and communications kept private and out of the reach of government bureaucrats and politicians.
Apple's customers should feel a profound sense of relief that someone like Tim Cook is at the helm of the company, he understands fully that the privacy of hundreds of millions of people should not be removed because of the actions of a few radical and insane people.
MacRumors readers strongly support Apple's commitment to user privacy
And I'm not the only one that feels a deep sense of gratitude toward Apple for its commitment to privacy rights, Purcher linked to a thread on the MacRumors forum and it's pretty clear that most people support Apple and Tim Cook's position on privacy.
Here's a sampling of comments from that thread:
East85: ”I'm glad Apple understands exactly what building these backdoors and creating mass databases will ultimately do. I'm proud to continue buying from a company that can get behind the privacy rights of their customers even when it is not politically expedient to do so.”
Meister: ”Apple is rightfully upset. England ... birthplace of 1984.”
Catoagu: ”...we all have the right to be innocent until proven guilty and not have our private communication spied on without probable course and a properly signed warrant. That warrant should be signed by a judge too, not a politician.
This whole anti encryption drive by governments is utterly self defeating also. Apart from the fact you can't have a back door that only the good guys can use, encryption isn't an app, it's maths. If you allow back door access to iMessage or Facebook messenger etc, the bad guys will simply use their own apps to communicate.”
Eraserhead: ”Online fraud is *much* more of an issue than terrorism - and it costs us £75 billion a year. You can't have safe encryption and still keep it unsafe for terrorists, it's not mathematically possible.”
Absolutc: ”This is not for the greater good of the people. It's for the good of the people's governments. Which is pure ********. Hiding under the veil of "security against terrorism and the like" is garbage. If I know something has a back door and is being monitored, I will use something else that isn't susceptible to such attacks and snooping. This **** needs to stop and I sincerely hope the tech companies DO NOT FOLD and tell the governments to **** right on off.”
Sheza: ”Should the issue of ending encryption on iMessage or creating backdoors ever fully arise, Apple should just refuse to comply. Most MPs in Parliament use their products daily. The House of Commons is full of iPhones and iPads. See what happens if they fail to comply.”
Porco: ”You either have strong, working encryption or you don't. What the UK government seem to want is the equivalent of being a bit dead, or slightly pregnant - to have their cake and to eat it too.”
Paterh988: ”Time and time again government and law enforcement have proven they can't use their powers responsibly, so the people no longer want them to have the ability to do something they know will be abused.”
Stridemat: ”What's more the same Members of Parliament that we elect to represent our views are immune from the invasion of privacy. The draft bill clearly omits them from being subject to the surveillance that they would have us under; it will write 'the Wilson doctrine' into law, preventing surveillance of their communications.”
Randomgeeza: ”It's the politicians that are in fact the terrorists. I feel strongly about these proposals and foresee nothing but trouble ahead if they are pushed through. Before too long, if you even think a bad thought, there'll be a knock at the door. ”
As you can tell from the comments, most people strongly support Apple's position on encryption, and I was very glad to see such comments while I was reading the thread. Hopefully such sentiment will be noted by Tim Cook and Apple as they fend off the attacks being directed at them for protecting the privacy of their customers.
Patently Apple should stick to patents and skip the editorials
After reading Purcher's editorial, I could not help but come to the conclusion that Patently Apple should really skip the editorials and just focus on Apple's patents. That is the site's core competency and trying to foist its hand-wringing over terrorism on the public just undercuts its primary mission of monitoring Apple's patents.
Frankly, at this point I'm less likely to bother reading Patently Apple after Purcher's silly editorial. It really destroyed the site's credibility for me, though your mileage may vary. But I suspect that most of Apple's customers probably vehemently support the company's use of encryption and its ongoing commitment to protect the privacy of its users.
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