In all the discussion about Apple’s suddenly radioactive relationship with the FBI, we’ve been hearing how Apple is fighting for privacy versus the war against terrorism. The hyperbole is ramping up fast. Besides the fact that no one even knows if the San Bernardino shooter has any relevant information on his phone at all, there is one very important aspect that hasn’t been touched on: Apple could be dealt a fatal blow by this controversy.
It’s not that Apple is “fighting for user’s rights” or “standing up against the government,” it’s that Apple will not be able to sell a phone that has been compromised by a third party, especially the US government. Would you buy a phone from China knowing that the Chinese Government can access all of the data on it at any time? No. You wouldn’t touch it. So why would a Chinese customer buy an American iPhone that the US government can access? Or a Japanese customer? Or a German, Swedish or French customer?
The US Government wouldn’t even need the seemingly perfunctory court approval for wiretapping that they use in the US. International iPhone users do not have constitutional rights. Any phone owned by a non-American citizen could be essentially controlled by the US Government. The contents could be downloaded, their location tracked, their conversations listened to and their behavior logged.
That is a phone no one would buy, and Apple’s iPhone sales would sink like a stone until it hit the ocean floor.
So in pure economic terms, the US Government is essentially torpedoing the biggest consumer product of our lifetime, and that will likely take Apple along with it. Apple survived as a company before the introduction of the iPhone, but they are a much bigger business now, exponentially bigger, and they require a huge flow of cash to keep the business running. Suddenly take away the iPhone and it would be the end.
The privacy concerns are the headline when it comes to this confrontation of citizen’s rights versus a government’s need to protect its’ citizens. It’s a more than legitimate conversation, but recent history tells us that the people of the US are more than willing to cast aside their privacy and other rights when faced with anything labeled as “terrorism.” We’ll send thousands of kids to their deaths in a hell-hole of a country to do it, and we’ll most likely throw Apple to the wolves if it makes us feel safer.
The only thing that can stop this is an effective — and probably massive — campaign on the part of Apple to win the public over to their side of the argument. Many people suggest how Apple should spend their accumulated billions, but this is probably the time and the place to do it. Privacy is one thing, but being monitored and tracked is also what we’re talking about, and Apple needs to spell that case out to the public.
Even if Apple’s lawyers are successful and can beat back this particular FBI request, this is a fight we’ll have again and again until public opinion is cast one way or the other. In a fight of hearts and minds, the US government already controls the high ground, which is fear of terrorism, and Apple is a private business that can be seen as taking up this fight for crass public relations purposes.
Apple cannot lose this battle and survive, and they cannot assume that the American people are going to support them over their fear of terrorism. They need to act.