Apple’s Privacy Battle: PR Coup or Nightmare?
An iPhone belonging to a suspected terrorist was found in the wake of the attack on San Bernardino on December 2nd of 2015. That single device has drawn the attention of a huge portion of the United States, thanks to the debate over encryption.
The battle over encrypted data is nothing that hasn’t been seen before. Tech companies have argued with the federal government for years over the issue of privacy, and in many previous instances the government would put pressure on those companies to provide help, usually in the form of de-encryption software. This most recent case involving Apple has far more complexities than previous cases, however.
The software on an iPhone automatically deletes all the data on the phone after a certain number of failed attempts to access it. This feature is meant to prevent unauthorized usage, and it is exceptionally effective. In the case of the iPhone seized by the DEA, the federal government has requested that Apple write a piece of software that would allow them to bypass this security feature, allowing them unlimited attempts to access the information held in the device. The problem with this solution, Apple contends, is that the software necessary to bypass the security feature on a single device would also work on any device with the same feature, i.e. every Apple device that runs iOS.
Here lies the ultimate problem. Apple doesn’t want to allow a possible backdoor into their system, especially one that could potentially put any of their existing customers at risk of being hacked. Apple, along with a growing segment of powerful tech companies that includes Facebook, Yahoo, and Twitter, believes that encryption is a critical aspect of technological privacy. To undermine such a feature would only open a window for further privacy concerns in the future.
Many have argued that such a thrust into the judicial limelight might not be good for the brand value of Apple. Such PR is usually associated with brand devaluation, but only if the customer base for that brand agrees with the negative publicity. Take, for instance, the issue that VW had with their emission standards. A recent Harris poll states that VW actually received more visibility as a result of the scandal, but the result was a drastically decreased reputation score. This can clearly be attributed to the response from their customers, who prefer vehicles with proper emissions and companies who don’t attempt to cover up or lie about their illicit activities. Fortunately, this example is quite far off from the situation with Apple.
What makes one brand more valuable than another? The products and services offered by a brand certainly make a difference, but what truly makes a company stand out from the crowd is their recognition of what their customers truly want from those products and services. Apple has famously been a company that focuses more on the individual user experience than their overarching goals as a tech giant. They actually listen to the voices of those using their products, and that knowledge has paid off for them. Not only do they produce some of the most popular tech devices on the planet, but they incorporate functions that directly meet the demand from their customers. That sort of entrepreneurship is a staple of successful businesses.
Apple has taken their commitment to the proper entrepreneurial spirit to the next level with their response to the federal government’s request for a backdoor into the suspected terrorist’s iPhone. Their refusal to meet the demands of the FBI show a true commitment to the values of their customers. The common American citizen doesn’t like the idea of the government snooping wherever they please, and many of Apple’s most devoted customers understand the importance for digital privacy, not only as it pertains to this specific case, but how it will evolve as technology continues to grow.
It’s easy to see how the publicity that Apple has received over this case could lead to a dip in their popularity, but such a dip will only happen within groups who don’t understand how digital privacy affects the world, or amongst people with a pre-existing prejudice against Apple. Unsurprisingly, Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft, is one of Apple’s most outspoken critics for their decision to refuse to meet the demands of the FBI.
Intelligent, well informed consumers, on the other hand, tend to agree with Apple’s course of action. They see it as an affirmation that the company is committed to their customers, which in turn will only promote more consumers to buy Apple products, which is their entire goal. The best entrepreneurs understand that an ongoing relationship exists between companies and their customers, so nurturing that relationship will lead to more overall success in the business world. The more receptive a company can be to the wants and needs of their customers, the more success they can expect.