Apple vs. FBI: The Truth that Needs to be Known

Posted Thursday, March 3, 2016 in Online, Mobile & IT by Peter Horne

A little over a year has passed since I discovered the Superfish malware on my Lenovo notepad.  A memory I have quite clearly of that time was how hard it was to get the story out; it took a lot of analysis, research, proof, and a well connected network who could get me access to the influential press.  I nearly gave up at one point because it was just plain hard work. The level at which the problem manifested itself was esoteric and well hidden, the proof was difficult to explain, and frankly, there was nothing in it for me because I had already ditched my computer for another one; a MacBook Air.  But I kept going because I wanted the truth to be known.

I have used Apple computers since the Apple IIe that ran the lab where I got my first professional job.  I used both Macs and PCs when the concepts of computers and fashion, let alone luxury, had never met, and I have used the Apple OS since the first version.  But let me tell you, my MacBook Air lasted about as long as my malware infected Lenovo notepad.  Why?  Because the newer versions of OSX chat to the cloud for reasons I do not understand, it integrates information across my devices by default regardless of whether I want it to, and it started to tell me that I could not install certain applications because they were not signed by Apple. OSX was acting exactly like malware; doing things I did not know, could not stop without getting extremely technical, and provided me with little choice as to what it does.  Apple was presenting me with a choice; I could choose to do things the way the now consumer device-focused Apple wanted me to, or I could go away.  So I gave it to my daughter and went away.  I don't trust cloud based operating systems.

Can We Trust Cloud-Based Operating Systems?

The only reason why we would trust cloud based operating systems such as OSX and Windows 10, and other pre-installed cloud chatting applications like Superfish, is is because of their provenance.  Let's not forget that Superfish was a consciously selected and installed piece of software that a Lenovo product manager thought provided a customer-focused feature.  Before Superfish, Lenovo was trusted; probably not so much now, unless the machine contains stock standard Windows.  Of course, Apple could also install a feature that acted like Superfish, but Apple wouldn't do that, would they?  We trust them, and we have to because they control what is on our device.

Why Do We Need to Trust Apple (or Any Manufacturer)?

I believe that the question we should ask ourselves is why do we have to trust Apple, or any any other device manufacturer?   Why can't we just buy our box or cell phone for however many overpriced dollars we pay, go home, and end our relationship should we so wish?  I can with the PC that I put together from various components I bought and created a system on which I installed Linux.  I have no enduring relationship with any of the part manufacturers or my Linux distribution.  Why can't I do that with Apple?  The answer is because their code is sealed and they retain control of the devices they sell.

Who Has the Right to Access My Machine?

How do they control the devices they sell, after they have sold them?  The answer is Digital Rights Management (DRM), the flip side of the data privacy debate.  In the same way that encryption keeps the information between you and your bank private and away from others, DRM uses encryption technology so that the manufacturer can keep the details of how the operating system interacts with the hardware away from you. It also lets them manage how your devices interact with all their services, including their clouds.  So just like you keep a user name and password to your Google or Facebook account, Apple actually keeps a key on your device that lets it control how you access their software updates and ultimately how you access their cloud.  Because they hold the key to your machine, it remains their slave.  My Linux machine is DRM free and hence is slave to no one.

How Does this Relate to Apple vs. FBI?

While Apple, Microsoft, Google--in fact all branded device manufacturers--now work this way, let's take a closer look at Apple because they are the ones that have picked the fight with the FBI in the San Bernadino terrorist case.  You know, Apple is not Tim Cook's company handed on to him from Steve Jobs.  Apple is a mega corp, which means that it is a brand with many corporate entities across many legal jurisdictions.  That is how Apple avoids taxes; it shifts sales, profits and expenses through various corporate entities so that, for example, it pays peppercorn taxes in Australia.   As a mega corp, it also means that Apple sets up local operating companies so that it can comply with local laws.  For example in China, Apple uses a company called Apple Technology Service (Shanghai) Ltd to provide its payment services.  Apple also changed the iPhone to enable it to use Chinese government-approved encryption technology when in the Chinese legal jurisdiction so it could get access to the state-owned Chinese cell phone networks.

Apple's Business Model Requires the Apple Retain the Key to Your Device

To me, Apple is no better or worse than any other US Corporation, incorporated under US law, and when in the US, beholden to the whims of the US government under such laws as FISA, under which we shall never know what Apple does unless another Edward Snowden emerges.  So to me, it is a bit of a stretch for me to think that Apple is, under the leadership of Saint Tim, fighting for the the privacy of the world.  No; Apple is holding the keys to all the devices it manufacturers because that is its business model.  It is how Steve Jobs got record companies to sign up for iTunes, it is how Apple wants to control your interactions with its cloud, and it is how Tim Cook will eventually get cable TV shows on the Apple TV.  Because Apple controls the keys to your devices, it controls how, and at what price, you access your content.  In the future, it also lets Apple decide in the face of falling profits to mine your data and sell it to advertisers just like Google, Facebook and Microsoft. The master key will let them do that, and I believe that the stock market will eventually demand it because that's what corporations do.  Just look at Windows 10.

Now the problem for Apple is that the US government has also quite rightly identified that Apple can do whatever it wants to the devices it manufactures, because they hold the ultimate key that all Apple devices will ultimately obey.  So why wouldn't the FBI want to avail themselves of the ability to use this key, the already existing back door to all Apple devices?  Apple is a US company under US law; the San Bernadino guy was an abomination and there may be more, so Apple, here's the law, now get on with it.  Even if the FBI wants to make its point and do it publicly and make case law rather than do it under secret laws like FISA, that is its prerogative.  It's what governments do.

I am neither a US citizen nor an Apple user anymore, so I have no personal interest in this fight.  The issue is well hidden, esoteric, and the proof is difficult to explain, and people don't want to hear it.  But I feel compelled, at least for now, to try and get the story out.  The truth is that this is not a moral battle; it's a particular government's agenda against a particular corporation's commercial interests.  Why is Apple even in this debate with the government?  It is not because they need to be, it is because of nothing more than them fighting to control their own access to your device so that they can protect their commercial interests.  And they are fighting as proxy for others like Google, Facebook, and Microsoft who want to control your devices.

That is the truth that needs to be known.

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