Apple, you broke my heart. The company that understood that standing up for privacy is a huge selling point has betrayed that message and its many loyal loving fans. Apple betrayed its core. And make no mistake, many loyal Apple fans will leave it for this betrayal.
The road to hell is paved with good intentions
Apple’s CSAM technology is laudable in its goal, stopping child pornography, but many other causes are also laudable. Is not stopping terrorism and countless murders laudable? Is not helping authorities solve crime laudable? Is not giving the private data of those that passed away (those that didn’t leave permission or password) to surviving loved ones laudable? These are all laudable.
After all, we can end nearly all crime if we lock everyone inside a cell denying them all freedoms. But you do not sacrifice liberty at the alter of evil. It’s the other way around. Apple in the past understood this. And its users loved it for knowing that all the evils of earth are not reason enough to destroy the freedoms, liberties and rights of even one person. Because in sacrificing the one, it destroys rights and liberty for us all.
That is no more. Apple has gone back on that axiom, and more importantly has broken the Steve Jobs privacy promise, roughly paraphrased: inform the user what you’re doing, and ask permission, repeatedly. But Apple isn’t asking for your permission. It won’t even inform you its scanning your files, much less repeatedly. You had to find out about it tech’splained and spun to you by some lackey tech blog as if you don’t understand.
People do understand. The bottom line is the Apple’s CSAM technology has opened a backdoor. It invades your privacy. All of Apple‘s wild technical handwaving are just that, to distract you from the fact that Apple’s CSAM has to read your private files on your device to match them to something, in this case a bad thing, by search criteria established by someone else. And that someone and something are inherently mutable.
It’s just code
Apple’s latest Bagdad Bob politburo techsplanations saying that the code they wrote has many protections and Apple will prevent anyone from looking for anything other than these bad things glosses over its ‘scanning’ invasion of your private property. Apple’s CSAM scans your data, without informing you of it, and all without your permission. Further, Apple’s explanations ignore that code is infinitely mutable and temporary, just as are the people overseeing it. Even if you trust people at Apple to do the right thing today, the people there tomorrow may not have the same power, inclinations, or agenda. A simple change of management and a software patch update, and now the criteria and those pulling the strings are different.
This is the same kind of handwaving that brought us the Patriot Act, with so many assurances that it would never be abused. But of course, just like every thing else its type, it was abused. It’s never a question of if. It’s always a question of how long, and how badly it will be abused. But it’s worse. Because it’s just code. And that code is oh-so-easy to change for its own reasons (e.g., fixing inevitable data leak bugs, features or worse). And at the behest of others (e.g., powerful foreign governments and agencies will be eager to force their way through this door).
Arrogant Apple again
Apple seemingly understood all of that when it stood up against the FBI. But they lost their way. And worse they are arrogant about it.
In the past when Apple and Steve Jobs made a mistake, he was humble enough to admit it (see Macworld San Francisco Keynote 2001 at ~ 33:45 where Steve admits they almost missed the importance of CD burners to the digital music revolution). After that, Steve course corrected quickly, and Apple went on to have amazing success with the Rip, Mix, Burn campaign.
Tim Cook seems unable to do anything other than have plastic responses read off of prompters. Instead, he sends in as fodder Craig Federighi to deliver the Chewbacca Defense; in what may be the single worst PR presentation in the history of tech, Apple issued a technical PR song-and-dance “clarification“ that basically translates to: ‘we’re so sorry that you’re so stupid that you don’t understand how right we are.’
Enabled by weak uncritical tech press, it’s probably too late
Apple could still fix this. They can do what Steve did. Say you made a mistake. Change direction. Say you learned from the mistake, and promise not to make it again. If they do that, they can come back from this. But I see nothing in Apple’s leadership make-up capable of such humility.
What’s worse is most of the tech press for Apple are nothing more than goosestep Apple-flavored PEZ-head apologists regurgitating the party line. At worst they can’t wait to lick the boots of Apple (for future favored access and more clicks no doubt) and explain to everyone how stupid people are misunderstanding Apple, and at best they shy away from the topic completely. It’s a very consistent record of cowardice and stupidity by the tech press, and no longer unexpected.
Sadly, in the end, Apple promised us privacy, and all we got was a lousy backdoor.