Everyone who writes anything about Apple these days has something of a crash and burn moment; a scenario where our favorite Cupertino company could stumble and fall, be it by government dictate or market forces.
For the moment, everything is coming up roses at Apple but there are simmering issues boiling under the surface of all that seems well and good. Sure, iPhone is the most profitable tech gadget ever, but no one knows how a new iPhone will fare. The Mac defies gravity and sells at record levels. Even iPad is better than ever and outsells the Mac. I could go on, but you get the idea. Apple is healthy. So, how could Apple crash and burn?
Undercurrents Of Change
Long ago I learned this: things change. Then I learned that nothing improves without change. Now I have a fear that some changes are boiling around under the surface that could impact Apple, Apple’s customers, and perhaps the very forces of technology itself. Here is the worst of a few that caught my eye recently.
Let me see if I can explain this complicated issue appropriately.
Apple uses encryption to ensure our personal privacy on Mac, iPhone, and iPad. That means we get encryption on devices and applications and data which ensures a government cannot intrude upon what is rightfully ours. Terrorists, hackers, criminals, and both foreign and local governments use the same kind of encryption to hide what they do and who they are. Government authorities want access to that encrypted data from everyone and anyone and are working on laws which would prohibit Apple and others from using such encryption in their devices, ostensibly, by having what is called back door access.
Governments in Australia and the U.K., the latter of which I visit multiple times each year for business and family, are at the forefront of such attempts to give authorities access which it does not easily obtain now.
Here’s the problem. Access to one government to Apple’s devices could lead to access by other governments, and as we’ve seen with secret government offices in recent years, they are poor at keeping things secret; Roswell, NM notwithstanding.
Let’s say that authorities in Australia and the U.K. succeed and Apple is forced to provide the access they request of Apple’s devices. How long before other governments make similar requests? Not very long. A tidal wave of such access will be the norm and nobody’s information– criminal elements, you or me– will be safe.
Here’s another problem. Let’s say that such access is granted to authorities all over the world and any device using specific applications can be accessed with proper requests by any government. What will the terrorists, hackers, criminals, foreign, and local authorities who want encryption do?
Encryption is like toothpaste. It doesn’t go back into the tube. The aforementioned terrorists, hackers, criminals, foreign, and local authorities will use encryption that does not have so-called back door access and reigning authorities will be right back where they started.
Apple might have issues with patent trolls that could cost the company hundreds of millions in fine and royalties. Courts here and there could award competitors and vendors large sums of Apple’s stash-o-cash for infringing on this patent or that agreement. Apple will survive because businesses tend to be pragmatic stewards of the status quo.
Governments and their elected and unelected officials are not good stewards. Often, they are clumsy, inept, and ineffective at making the right decisions to help their citizens. Making Apple’s encryption and privacy policies crash and burn in the name of humanity and authority is wrong because almost instantly, terrorists, hackers, criminals, and government authorities in need of unhackable and inaccessible encryption will adapt and find the tools they need.
We are mere pawns below a charade of thrones. We will be the ones to suffer when government officials fail their jobs– and they will; they cannot keep the keys secret– and access to our privacy and security will be granted to anyone who wants it.
Let us hope that Apple’s ability to persuade reasonable minds will prevent the crash and burn.