Apple: Big Tech and Big Brother
It seems Americans trust their tech companies — led by Apple Inc. — to protect their privacy.
This trust factor showed up in a recent poll taken following the highly publicized legal battle between Apple and the U.S. Justice Department began.
Justice officials asked Apple to de-encrypt an iPhone used by a terrorist. Apple has refused to do so, becoming a Silicon Valley hero, billing itself as a defender of the private sector and privacy.
The tussle ended, perhaps temporarily, when Justice officials announced this week that a hacker has approached them who knows how to de-encrypt the phone.
I hope it works because it would serve Apple right. The company’s stance was not heroic, it was commercial based on marketing promises that its phones were secure and no one could ever get into one.
Now Apple not only looks like a bad corporate citizen for balking at helping a terrorist investigation, but its brand will be harmed after the phone is hacked.
The best solution would have been a compromise: Apple should have made a deal with Justice in the face of evidence of wrongdoing and the government could have avoided hiring someone to do something “illegal”.
Most people would agree that public interest trumps commercial or privacy concerns, especially involving terrorism. I’m sure a poll would show that Apple’s customers are more frightened of terrorist mayhem than of getting hacked by some identity thief or the NSA.
In essence, Apple has put itself – and its profits – above the law.
Such a position, by the way, is nothing new in Silicon Valley. Big Tech is as powerful and arrogant as Big Oil. This is because they are collectively more influential and richer than most nation-states. The big four — Apple, Alphabet/Google, Amazon and Facebook have a combined market capitalization value of US$1.68 trillion. And unlike Big Oil or Big Pharma or Big Banks, they are more self-righteous even though they have not exactly been exemplary corporate citizens.
Lest we forget, Google took the media’s content without paying for it then took all the advertisers without sharing the profits. This has created a gaping hole in the Fourth Estate that continues continues to widen, leaving democracies and the public short-changed in terms of coverage, fact checking and political accountability.
Big Tech is as powerful and arrogant as Big Oil.
Only one media mogul, Rupert Murdoch, sued over this, but they all should have and now it’s too late.
Big Tech has also been as aggressive and rapacious as other sectors. It has shopped the world for workers, suppliers and tax breaks. It gives enormous campaign contributions. It employs armies of lobbyists and lawyers to fight anti-competitive practices and taxation.
Apple, and others, outsourced manufacturing to a Taiwanese company that exploited millions of Chinese workers. Sometimes, suicide nets were strung around worker dormitories after dozens threw themselves off rooftops because of working conditions and pay scales. Now the company is robotizing its factories to phase out human workers.
Others — like Silicon Valley darlings Uber and AirBnb — have flouted laws, regulations, licensing requirements, taxes, insurance requirements in order to provide services that pose a risk to public safety.
Both have become embroiled in battles around the world over injuries, damages and legalities. Uber should only deal with licensed and trained drivers and Airbnb should pay hotel taxes, accept liability for damages or violence and be responsible for screening both renters and rentees.
Instead, Big Tech remains steadfastly stubborn and self-righteous. Yes, they are smart; yes, they are successful; yes, they are improving the world. But they’re creating socio-economic problems for which they will be unwilling to compensate society.
The biggest issue will occur when automation, robots and Artificial Intelligence begin to destroy or degrade at least half of the jobs in the economy. Will Big Tech compensate and retrain workers? Will politicians on their payroll demand this?
The Apple controversy is a peek into this Brave New World. It’s downright shocking that a company would refuse to cooperate with law-enforcement officials. But given Big Tech’s attitude it shouldn’t surprise.