The thing that shook the internet for much of yesterday was Reuters's report that Apple decided against throwing away its keys for users' encrypted iCloud backups after the FBI found out encryption had weighed down.
after ”does a lot of work in this wording – it reads like it's supposed to be a cause, but it could just be a chronology. Reuters itself did not come out and said Apple chose to keep the ability to unlock your iCloud backups because they were concerned that the FBI might freak out if it did it blocked, but did not say that either did not . A source told the outlet that "Apple didn't want to poke the bear," the bear is the FBI.
The news is not that the iCloud gap exists ̵
There has been a stir due to the broader context that the Attorney General accused Apple of refusing to assist in FBI investigations, which Apple strongly denies. But this rejection also contains the unpleasant fact that Apple can access this data at all via the iCloud gap.
Apple has become the epitome of privacy last year. I would argue that Apple's own privacy and security rhetoric meant that anything less than perfectly private and secure data would be considered a failure. And friends: There is no such thing as absolutely private and secure data.
To put it bluntly, Apple is really doing a lot to restrict the collection and distribution of your data – that is one of the core problems of the big browser war that I wrote about last week. It also has the edge in terms of encryption on the device. Other large technology companies should do more to follow Apple's example in device encryption and tracking. Credit where due.
Speaking of where credit is due – and I'm embarrassed to say that I forgot until John Gruber mentioned it – Google offers full backup encryption that is not available on its servers for newer Android phones can be. (If only it offered a safer standard messaging experience!)
Anyway, this whole story was everything anyone in engineering spoke about yesterday (until the Bezos phone hack story arrived. As I said , There is a lot going on! ). My favorite tweet about the whole fight comes from Joe Cieplinski, who puts the whole debate in the right context:
I think it's great that the non-tech world thinks Apple supports terrorists and technology The world also thinks Apple is selling us to the FBI. I have to love the complete absence of reason in our discourse these days.
I don't know if there is a complete absence of reason, but the truth is that data protection and encryption are actually pretty complicated actually. As much as we want it to be a simple binary choice between safe and not, the truth is that security is a spectrum. You compromise every time you choose a password, you have the least chance to remember it. Apple compromises when it decides to keep the decryption key for iCloud backups.
The last time Tim Cook spoke directly about this issue that I know of, he said Apple kept the keys for users who forgot their passwords. This is a legitimate use case, and whether you believe it is the main reason or not is between you and your general confidence in Apple and in big tech in general.
Incidentally, this debate took a long time. It was already one of those things that the technicians knew about but didn't think much about when Walt Mossberg wrote about the "iCloud gap" in his column for The Verge in 2016. It was a vaguely worrying thing in 2016. Now in 2020 it's a much bigger story because Apple itself made it the story of the iPhone.
When you put up a giant billboard at America's largest consumer electronics show that touts that "what's happening on your iPhone stays on your iPhone" like Apple did at CES in 2019, they want Folks that you do it justice. If you post a privacy notice in May, people expect you to comply. The heat on this topic is largely high because Apple's own rhetoric was so vocal.
It may sound like I'm insulting Apple for hypocrisy. I am not yet. As mentioned earlier, data security is a spectrum and it is difficult to understand how everything works. If I'm dissatisfied with Apple about anything, it's because I'm so absolutist about data security and privacy.
And I get the impetus! Placing a billboard that says, "Every security and privacy decision comes with compromises, and we'll make the best possible choices in that regard without locking your phone so you can barely use it" won't do much good for phones. This is not how marketing works.
What's next? I expect a lot of patience from Apple (for example, it did not respond to our request for comment). However, I don't know how long it can just be silent. The FBI and the Attorney General will definitely continue to exert pressure. I doubt that Apple's big tech rivals struggle with it the same way Apple does, but that doesn't mean Apple's users won't have better demands.
Apple's selection for iCloud backups involves compromises that sensible people can argue about. I don't know if I agree with them (actually I don't think so), but it would be nice to have an open, differentiated discussion about them. The problem is that, as Cieplinski tweeted, nuances and reasons for discussions about encryption are pretty scarce.
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