Apple, privacy, encryption, and trust.

Matthew Panzarino has a great piece up at TechCrunch covering Tim Cook’s recent speech on the topics of encryption and privacy and Apple’s place in the discussion. It’s worth a read if only for some of the Southern subtweet-style smackdowns (alliteration power up!) he lays at the feet of other companies storing and using consumer data. Apple has in the past year taken its previously quiet stance on consumer data privacy to the front lines of its marketing in an effort to hold it up as a differentiator against the current trend of free services that are offered with the hidden cost of absorbing users’ personal information, and Cook in particular has become a vocal proponent of this initiative.

Philosophically, I agree with this. Tactically, the only security you can truly trust is the security you put in place yourself, and manage end-to-end. Realistically, Apple’s position is a middle ground I’m willing to accept in order to live the technological life I’ve grown to enjoy. I understand that the tradeoff I’m accepting is that I trust the company to make the right choices regarding the data I (and my family) share with it. If Apple decides to change direction in the future, I have some hard decisions to make. But for right now, this choice seems clear.

Apple’s business model is selling hardware. This is a fairly common and accepted fact. We pay money for shiny things, and it takes our money and gives us the shiny things. In simple terms, that is how the company became the financial juggernaut it is. Its cloud storage is free to start, but if you want to use it in any meaningful way, you need to pay for it. Again, you pay a fee and it provides a service. It would be naive to assume that the company isn’t collecting some of the data you provide. All companies do this for a variety of reasons. It would also be naive to assume that because the stated goal of protecting customer data is a primary focus, that it will always remain so into the future, and for all time, and is impenetrable to outside forces.

But all security–at a pragmatic and not utopian level–is a compromise between convenience and protection. At this point in the market and in my personal life, Apple’s promise is one I can get behind. I don’t wholly trust any corporate entity (or anything bigger than individual people, for that matter). Any data that you capture, share, or otherwise transmit over a network you don’t control and between servers you don’t manage should always be assumed to be public. If that sounds ridiculous, think about it for a second and then think about it some more in light of everything that’s happened in our world in the past few years. For a normal individual, the compromise Apple is proposing is sufficient to enjoy the technological advances we have at our disposal without losing too much sleep over it.

Trust is something that human beings grant when we want something in return. Apple wants our money, and is willing to leverage our trust as a motivator to continue running a successful business beyond simply offering shiny things. As long as the fundamental balance it provides remains intact, and it does not willingly choose to violate the trust we place in it for any reason, it remains the best of all options for me, and for many others.

Author: Seth Clifford

I'm here for the open bar.