Little Rock Apple and its products are ubiquitous. No matter how much I might dislike the company and its historically elite and overpriced values, begrudgingly I have to admit that the IPod and even the IPads are hard to beat, which means hard not to own. With Steve Jobs gone and a new sheriff now running the world’s most valuable company, it seemed like maybe things might change. Tim Cook, the new dominant voice for the company as its CEO now, stood tall around same sex marriage for example, and seemed willing to look the government in the eye on a facedown over whether it would protect IPhone users’ privacy or work with the FBI to hack its own phone. He even did so in a tactical situation he could not have relished since the phone was owned by one of the San Bernardino terrorists. Right or wrong, it seemed like the company might be getting a values injection, and that had to be a good thing, so even when the government claimed it was just another Apple marketing ploy to help their global image, I was inclined to root for Apple as a surprising underdog in the fight.
Now I’m not sure. Now it’s looking a little bit more like Apple may be the wolf in sheep’s clothing.
The grand lawsuit between the government and Apple may be collapsing because some hacker group, and believe me, there are hundreds of them, uncharacteristically approached the FBI saying essentially, “We can crack open the IPhone for you, chief.” Over the next week the FBI now has to see if they are all boots and no cattle, or can really get into the phone.
Something didn’t feel right when the story broke. It must be some kind of violation of a cardinal hacker rule of outlaw ethics to go to the government with a fix? What was up?
It turns out that Apple is one of the only big tech companies that refuses to deal with hackers when they find a bug in its software. Microsoft, Facebook, Uber and almost all of the other big companies routinely encourage, which means pay, hackers for finding a bug in their software so that they can improve the security and patch it up. Apple it seems does not. Instead it claims to have the world’s best security and encryption system, but that’s all marketing because while also claiming they don’t want to get into a financial “arms race” of paying more and more to hackers, instead they have implicitly created a black market where hackers who break their codes can be paid even more by the bad guys who exploit the bugs, while Apple markets security without really providing it.
This case between the government and Apple falls apart if the hackers are able to open the IPhone as they claim, because the more than 100-year old law that allows the government to compel the company to comply is a last ditch thing available only if there are no other alternatives. The hacker community has stepped up and provided the potential alternative, which would make the case moot on a number of fronts. If it works, the FBI, meaning the government, will now be able to have its own backdoor to all IPhone users’ data, because they are under no obligation, once they have paid the hacker company, to tell Apple how to lock them out.
It seems that arrogance and unaccountability may still be a fundamental part of the Apple corporate culture and DNA. New boss is just the same as the old boss. The more things seem to change, the more they may be staying the same when it’s all about the dollar, even when the company has more dollars than any other company in the world that doesn’t mean it will loosen its grip, even if it means protecting their devoted cult of customers.