Thursday, June 4

Apple CEO Tim Cook's ringing speech is a polite way of saying Americans are risking their freedom for freebies

BES -- Before Edward Snowden -- American users of free internet-related services had an excuse in that many of us (this writer included) had no idea how much of our privacy we were giving up to use the services.  This ignorance was cynically manipulated by defenders of NSA's massive data mining operations after Snowden exposed them. They told the public that Americans knowingly give away their private information and that the idea of privacy was passé.

It turned out neither statement was true.              

But now we are confronted with a new iteration of the old saw that freedom is never free.  In a speech the other night about privacy and encryption, Tim Cook laid out Apple's business model, which stands in sharp contrast to the model that lulls people into believing they're getting something for nothing but actually represents data mining gone berserk

Yet Cook is just making the conundrum clear. We are fast approaching decisions about the cost of internet services we take for granted are 'free,' iincluding news reporting made available simply for the cost of internet access -- a revenue stream that doesn't benefit the news providers.

There are no easy answers to the conundrum, and the questions aren't limited to tech services. Recently a drug chain offered an additional 20 percent discount on a store discount card -- but activation required going onto the internet and providing personal information that hadn't been required to obtain the orignal discount card.  

In short, the rationale for discounting merchandise had evolved:  no longer was it simply a way to draw customers to the store.  Now they wanted more of the customer's private information.

Is all this just a kind of marketing fad?  Have retailers been sold on the idea that they can substitute the profits they derive from data mining for profits from better service and better products?

If so, they need to stop and consider where all this data mining is leading. The end of the road is a dystopia that they and their families will suffer from as much as the customer.

My thanks to Matthew Panzarino at Tech Crunch for explaining Apple's position so clearly. Even though he's writing for a tech-oriented website, Panzarino makes sure the reader doesn't have to be a techie to understand Tim Cook's points. Great journalism. And a great public service. Delivered without demanding my personal information.  Here, excerpts from Panzarino's report, which should be read in its entirety. It's an important writing on an important issue.    
Matthew Panzarino
June 3, 2015
Tech Crunch
Yesterday evening, Apple CEO Tim Cook was honored for ‘corporate leadership’ during EPIC’s Champions of Freedom event in Washington. Cook spoke remotely to the assembled audience on guarding customer privacy, ensuring security and protecting their right to encryption.
“Like many of you, we at Apple reject the idea that our customers should have to make tradeoffs between privacy and security,” Cook opened. “We can, and we must provide both in equal measure. We believe that people have a fundamental right to privacy. The American people demand it, the constitution demands it, morality demands it.”
"I’m speaking to you from Silicon Valley, where some of the most prominent and successful companies have built their businesses by lulling their customers into complacency about their personal information,” said Cook.
“They’re gobbling up everything they can learn about you and trying to monetize it. We think that’s wrong. And it’s not the kind of company that Apple wants to be.”
Cook went on to state, as he has before when talking about products like Apple Pay, that Apple ‘doesn’t want your data.’ 
“We don’t think you should ever have to trade it for a service you think is free but actually comes at a very high cost. This is especially true now that we’re storing data about our health, our finances and our homes on our devices,” Cook went on, getting even more explicit when talking about user privacy.
“We believe the customer should be in control of their own information. You might like these so-called free services, but we don’t think they’re worth having your email, your search history and now even your family photos data mined and sold off for god knows what advertising purpose. And we think some day, customers will see this for what it is.”
Cook then switched gears to talk about encryption, directly addressing the efforts by policymakers to force Apple to offer a ‘master key’ that would allow government agencies access to consumer devices.
“There’s another attack on our civil liberties that we see heating up every day — it’s the battle over encryption. Some in Washington are hoping to undermine the ability of ordinary citizens to encrypt their data,” said Cook.
“We think this is incredibly dangerous. We’ve been offering encryption tools in our products for years, and we’re going to stay on that path. We think it’s a critical feature for our customers who want to keep their data secure. For years we’ve offered encryption services like iMessage and FaceTime because we believe the contents of your text messages and your video chats is none of our business.”
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has been waging a war on “pervasive encryption,” painting it as an enabler of terrorism. Every security researcher and logical human being on the planet understands that this is ridiculous. And Cook is one of them.
“If you put a key under the mat for the cops, a burglar can find it, too. Criminals are using every technology tool at their disposal to hack into people’s accounts. If they know there’s a key hidden somewhere, they won’t stop until they find it,” Cook continued.
“Removing encryption tools from our products altogether, as some in Washington would like us to do, would only hurt law-abiding citizens who rely on us to protect their data. The bad guys will still encrypt; it’s easy to do and readily available.”
Cook then took it a step further, noting that weakening encryption could have a ‘chilling effect’ on our First Amendment rights. 
“Now, we have a deep respect for law enforcement, and we work together with them in many areas, but on this issue we disagree. So let me be crystal clear — weakening encryption, or taking it away, harms good people that are using it for the right reasons. And ultimately, I believe it has a chilling effect on our First Amendment rights and undermines our country’s founding principles.”
Matthew Panzarino's closing observation is memorable:  
The way in which it makes its money, then, is Apple’s new north star sales tool. And, like all the best marketing, it’s possible that it’s based in a fundamental truth: we could all be selling our ‘selves’ for a sale price.

No comments: