“Open to all” ain’t always the best option
A video of Steve Jobs speaking to Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher at the D8 conference in 2010 has gone viral ever since the brouhaha over Cambridge Analytica and Facebook broke out (you can see it below). Asked about the importance of privacy in a world going increasingly on the cloud (this was 2010, remember), and given the problems being faced by Google and (well!) Facebook in this regard, Jobs vehemently stresses Apple is very serious about privacy, and then goes ahead and defines what he means by user privacy:
“Privacy means people know what they are signing up for in plain English, and repeatedly. That’s what it means. I am an optimist and I believe that people are smart and that some people want to share more data than other people do. Ask them. Ask them every time. Make them tell you to stop asking them if they get tired of you asking them. Let them know precisely what you are gonna do with their data!”
Mossberg also made a tweet to the effect that Apple was the best of the big companies in terms of privacy because of “its principles and business model, which do not depend on collecting your data.”
All of which is not to say that Apple is the perfect protector of privacy. Far from it. The company has had its problems on that front, and even as we write is tackling with a bug that makes Siri read out messages from certain apps even on a locked screen. But all said and done, the company has responded swiftly to such issues and is credited with making security measures like fingerprint scanners and now face unlock popular (even though other manufacturers had got those features first).
But what cannot be denied is that Apple has always had this reputation for being almost paranoid about security – so much so that in the pre-iPhone days, one of the biggest reasons why many people advised me to invest in a Mac computer was because it would “never need an anti-virus, as it is rock solid secure!” Of course, that was a very partial truth – Mac OS does have its security issues but they tend to be far less serious than those seen on other platforms.
It sometimes takes apps weeks to get through the screening process before they get included on the iTunes App Store – a far cry from the relatively speedy clearances for the Google Play Store. Apple’s reputation for secrecy also adds to its “secure” platform aura.
Ironically (it seems now), Apple has often taken a lot of criticism for this culture of near paranoia and “being closed.” It is routine to hear tech evangelists proclaim that Apple should open its platform to allow people from outside the company to improve it or interpret it in their own ways, giving the consumer more choice, instead of restricting him or her to Apple’s version of its platform. Android, for instance, lets manufacturers and users do a whole lot more with its interface and functionality, giving users more variety. You have a whole number of Android interfaces and skins to choose from, whereas with something like MacOS and iOS, you are pretty much restricted to what Apple gives you.
All of which sounds very good on paper, but makes the platform a bit more vulnerable. And given the ease with each data was taken from Facebook, one wonders if Apple’s much maligned and criticised “walled garden” approach – a relatively closed world as far as software and hardware go and which largely attempts to control the user experience – is better in security terms than the more “open” approach advocated by some evangelists.
Yes, in a perfect world, it would be great if everyone could easily access source code, apps would be easily passed and users data would be secure, no matter what, because hey, it is a perfect world. But the sad truth is that the world we live in is far from perfect, and that there are people who are not just looking for user information but, as the recent FB fiasco has revealed, are also able to get it.
Of course, having a wall around you does not guarantee your safety, but it does feel a whole lot better in terms of security than having no wall at all. Especially in a world that is far from perfect. Of course, it does take away a little of your independence, but then that is perhaps the price one pays for a bit of security.