Vende Buzz: Apple and Facebook tangle with authorities over privacy

by Ray Larson
  |  March 8, 2016  |  
March 8, 2016

Apple’s ongoing tussle with the FBI

Who would have thought that a conflict with the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation would not automatically result in a win for the FBI. Maybe not when you are Apple, or Facebook, or Google…

Advances in technology have apparently left the FBI a bit behind the 8-ball. You couldn’t have missed the mass shooting in San Bernardino California and probably, you know about the iPhone issue related to that case but here’s a rundown.

The male shooter worked for the city of San Bernardino and was issued an iPhone for work purposes but naturally, San Bernardino didn’t have a very good handle on its electronics policy. When the shooter died, the cell phone – an iPhone was found at the scene. It belongs to the City of San Bernardino but authorities suspect there may be more information about their activities and potential links to other suspects on that phone.

Why do they suspect that – well to most people that answer is obvious and they should already know. So the real question might be: Why do they still suspect that? Or more like – Why don’t they know yet?

The answer is two-part.

  1. In trying to get into the phone, an FBI agent changed the password to the iCloud backup which let them access the backup info. Unfortunately, the backup account didn’t have any recent information and since the FBI changed the password, the phone can no longer communicate with the iCloud.

Apple says if the password had not been changed, they could have accessed it through the iCloud account. Oops.

  1. It’s an iPhone. If it was an Android or Windows phone – the whole issue wouldn’t exist because Android and Windows phones are a lot easier to hack, ahem, access. Apple has the tightest encryption system available. Period.

You might have thought that the FBI, the CIA or some other government agency had the best encryption systems. Apparently, you would be wrong. Apple does.

So, with Apple’s apparently unbreakable encryption, as a bonus, the iPhone is also equipped with a kill switch. If there are too many attempts to enter a phone without the password, all of the phone’s data gets erased. So they can’t just keep bashing at the thing. They have asked Apple for help, who promptly said “no way”. A federal judge ordered them to cooperate and they promptly filed a “stay of execution” for the iPhone encryption….impasse.

There is a significant business risk for Apple. If they do let the FBI into the phone, Apple users may lose confidence in the security of the product. The FBI says they don’t want a back door; they just want Apple to take off the kill switch.

This last week, the agency has let it leak that there may be a virus on the phone that the terrorist shooter was planning to unleash on the City of San Bernardino…and that’s part of what they need to know. Kind of weak but takes a little focus off the fact that law enforcement kinda, sorta, maybe, really messed up by changing the password in the first place.

Apple’s risk might seem small to those of us in the U.S., but consider that they are currently selling about 200 million phones a year. Though the U.S. was the biggest consumer, last fall, China surpassed the U.S. in iPhone sales. About 60 million new iPhones are sold each year in U.S. but China is right on course to buy 80 million – and the rest of the world….another 60 million.

That 80 million phones only around 15% of the Chinese market and China is G-R-O-W-I-N-G. They made a deal with China Mobile – which provides service to 760 million people in China. That’s about four times the size of the U.S. market.

Add in iPads, iWatches, Apple TVs…and the whole computer line and what do you get? A lot of money and if the FBI succeeds, all Apple users may feel compromised. Not just those of us in the U.S. We are only 30% of the sales…and falling. Basically, with China’s total digital market growing and iPhone’s increasing access…we are becoming small(er) potatoes and people around the world are worried about keeping their data safe.

So, what-to-do, what-to-do? Wait and see. Google, Microsoft, Facebook – and a couple of former NSA and Homeland Security heads have come out in support of Apple’s stance.

Law Enforcement says that criminals (even those pesky ordinary criminals) prefer iPhones because they are super secure – but the UN says that if the FBI gets its way, lives could be endangered (?)…and Apple says that companies may flee the U.S. Wow!

Other analysts have said that even if they get the info (whatever it is) – it’s too little, too late, but the fight sure has created a mess. We have the FBI up against pretty much all of the biggest tech players and even some of their own people and they don’t appear to be winning.

It has been pointed out that if the shooting had been targeted at Apple, the company may feel differently, but one can also say….Apple wouldn’t have changed the password.

What’s the point – we are getting there…

Facebook’s tussle with the privacy police

This issue comes at the same time that a Facebook exec has been jailed in Brazil for “refusing” to hand over encrypted WhatsApp data. He says there is nothing to release and they let him out of jail after 24 hours but…still – he went to jail over a privacy deal.

Facebook is also facing a German anti-trust issue related to privacy because the German government has decided that Facebook’s massive data collection has given Facebook an edge over the competition.

We would like to pause and mull over the irony of a couple of things here:

Germany thinks Facebook has an unfair advantage over “competition”? What competition?

and….

Germany says Facebook’s data collection is unfair because Facebook got so big by taking advantage of its own ability to collect data…and it is now too big to be allowed use its own data?

Not sure where this is going.

Even the German competition authority “Bundeskartellamt” (yep, that’s really what it’s called) says that it is “difficult” to understand. Basically the agency is claiming that Facebook users don’t know what they are agreeing to when they agree to the user’s agreement.

Secretly, we kinda thought that was the way it worked. No one really knows what’s in those user’s agreements (there was even a SouthPark episode about that) but even if they do know what’s in it….what’s your choice?

This isn’t the first time that Facebook has tangled with EU authorities over privacy issues either, which in itself is odd, since you can’t go anywhere in Europe without being on video.

Earlier this year, Facebook farmed out the monitoring of “hate” traffic on the platform to a third party in Germany…maybe to avoid this scuffle. Maybe they knew it was coming, maybe that was because FB didn’t want to censor for the German authorities. They have been accused of some censoring on their own but they don’t want to do it on command.

We know that Apple tracks you, Facebook tracks you, Google tracks you…etc. We also know that every government tracks you – but the governments aren’t the best game in town anymore and apparently they don’t want these companies to track you unless the data is ponied up on demand.

Too little, too late. Google, Facebook, Apple and anyone else who has your name has been tracking you for years.

Check out the FBI-iPhone tangle at Tripwire. Probe Facebook’s German probe at TechCrunch.

What’s the point?

Well, aside from the sad fact that the U.S. is running behind, the point is that the companies who collect all the data want to decide when and what they use it for.

Remember the days when suspicion led to the seizure of a computer? Well here we are. Everything is in that phone. No need for a computer. Mobile communication, social media…and Google have big, big, muscles. Worldwide muscles and they are dictating how the world works.

So which is creepier? All that data collected for the government as “Big Brother”…or all of it collected for a company run by people who don’t wear shoes at work?

They may not give it to the government on command, but guess what? You can use it. Yep – advertising on Facebook and Google.

So – again, it goes like this:

Mobile first, Facebook first, Google first. You have to do all three of those at the same time.

Mobile first – your website has to be designed to be viewed on a smartphone. Everyone is on Facebook and you have to be there too. Even though Google is seriously confusing, you can’t skip out.

Lastly, if you haven’t done so, accept the fact that all of your data is out there – even if you have an iPhone that’s all locked up and even if local law enforcement can’t access it, Google and Facebook already have that data.

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