Shocking news has reached the Macalope’s furry ears: it turns out that Apple is not a non-profit set up with the goal of protecting individual privacy and that it actually sells things and uses that as a sales point! It’s all very tawdry and shocking.
If you are five.
Writing for Gizmodo, Rhett Jones says “Apple Isn’t Your Friend.” (Tip o’ the antlers to Tibor.)
YOU TAKE THAT BACK. APPLE IS MY BESTEST FRIEND FOREVER AND WE’RE RIDING OUR BIKES FAR, FAR AWAY FROM THIS STUPID PLACE VERY SOON, YOU’LL SEE.
Apple has been steadily positioning itself as the anti-Facebook for a while now, and between verbal jabs aimed at the social media giant and privacy-focused product decisions, the patient goodwill campaign seems to be working. Unfortunately, Apple isn’t going to save us, and now’s the time to keep your guard up.
Uhhh, OK. Wow. That is true. Apple is not going to “save” us. But the Macalope’s not exactly sure who thought that other than the men of straw who burn so prettily in the night when you light them ablaze in such grand fashion.
Now that Facebook’s endless cycle of scandals has opened up public awareness of what’s at stake in the battle for online privacy, and political will has, at least slightly, tilted towards doing something about it, Apple has seized an opportunity to remind people how great it is.
Well, let’s be clear here: Apple is unarguably better on privacy than Facebook, Google and any number of its competitors. Jones doesn’t seem to be arguing that particular point, he’s just railing against the fact that it’s all part of the company’s insidious scheme to make money.
Let’s just get the obvious stuff out of the way and acknowledge that multi-billion-dollar companies don’t have fundamental values outside of doing what best benefits their shareholders.
This is true! But the point is that Apple has made privacy a feature, one that—horrors—it markets. That doesn’t mean that Apple products aren’t built with better privacy constraints in mind compared to companies that consider you the product, not the customer.
There’s marketing that’s hogwash and even contrary to reality—like the purported health benefits of smoking that were touted in the early part of the 20th century—and then there’s marketing that highlights an actual competitive advantage. What Apple’s doing is clearly the latter.
There’s no reason to believe Tim Cook lacks his own genuinely held beliefs that are nice and altruistic, but major corporations are more like nation-states today. Properly managed, they will last for generations. Leadership changes over the years and new priorities are introduced.
So, we shouldn’t laud privacy features in macOS Mojave, for example, because some day Apple might be run by MBA weasels (and here The Macalope is referring to literal weasels who have done two years at an institute of higher learning and obtained a Masters in Business Administration) who will sell your data to the highest bidder. Ooookay, yes, it’s possible, but that would be a complete reversal of the company’s policy. Why, it’d be as if a place famous for selling pancakes suddenly wanted to be famous for selling burg… okay, bad example. But isn’t that why we’d want to reward the company now in order to prevent that from happening?
Jones does have a point here. Apple does not create laws. It does not exist to protect you and your data from those who would exploit it unscrupulously. It has made those protections features that it uses to sell phones. At the same time, however, choosing privacy as a defining feature and sticking with it even in the face of criticism and legal action from law enforcement agencies helps define these issues. If no company had privacy as a feature, we probably wouldn’t be talking about privacy in technology because it wouldn’t be an option.
The proper reaction when Apple or any other monolithic company does the right thing is not to say thank you, or praise them for being better than the rest, or tweet about the epic dunk they just made on another company’s CEO.
Instead, you should say, “It’s about time. Now, what are you doing for me tomorrow?
Yes, by all means, give Apple a hard time instead of Facebook, which would love to sell your mother’s location data to angry Cossacks and those space dogs in Infinity War.
Is Apple your friend? No. Of course not. It’s a company that sells stuff. But, right now at least, it’s an ally. And the Macalope doesn’t know about anyone else, but he’s not clear on the rationale behind the “Always shoot your allies first” policy.