Apple has come out with a strong statement about privacy.
Our commitment to protecting your privacy comes from a deep respect for our customers. We know that your trust doesn’t come easy. That’s why we have and always will work as hard as we can to earn and keep it.
CEO, Apple Inc.
If you read the whole statement, it sounds great as long as you are a customer of Apple and not just an Apple employee like many of my friends. Now I will admit that for much of the nearly twenty years that I was at Apple I worked as if I had very little personal life. Apple, the company, took up an oversized portion of my life. My history at Apple included far too many weekends and nights when my family and children saw little more than the back of my head. Apple as one the leading early technology companies worked hard to build that culture of long hours for the company.
I was well paid for my time at Apple, but I think it is worth asking one question. What would Apple do if the company believed that information about a leak about Apple products was on a locked iPhone? If Apple is as concerned about a person's right to privacy as they would have us believe, would they leave it alone?
No one should forget that Apple is one of the most secretive companies on the face of the earth. I well remember when the iMac was released. I was the ranking Apple manager in the Apple Reston, Virginia office. The boxes of literature about the iMac showed up at the office with the dire warning that if they were opened before Steve spoke, that people would be fired.
One of my favorite examples of Apple's zeal to find any and all leaks happened at FOSE in 2001. A reporter for FCW published a story, Apple Not Making a Federal Case. In it he said "To the obvious frustration of the federal team members, they were prohibited from speaking for this story." The witch hunt that went on for the obviously frustrated federal team members was impressive. I was questioned multiple times. I knew who made the comment and laughably he was someone on the NEXT team. I did not give him away because he did not say anything and he was as dedicated an Apple employee as you could find. He is still at Apple. I hired him a year or so after the FOSE event as the NEXT team started to vaporize.
It can easily be argued that Apple was just protecting its business interests, but you can only say that with a straight face if you never worked at Apple. We had many executive briefings at Cupertino where you reached a point in the briefing that all of Apple's field sales people would be asked to leave the room as the Apple executives told customers things which the field sales people were not permitted to hear. Imagine how easy it is to be an account manager and your account knows more about the product you are selling than you do. I guess trust is hard to earn since I had employees who had worked at Apple for over twenty years that were asked to leave the room. Again some of them are still at Apple.
It was pretty clear that Apple executives did not trust their own employees to keep a secret. Perhaps you might think my employees weren't trustworthy? Many were ex-military and had clearances before coming to work with Apple. The reason often given as to why Apple would not work towards getting clearances for our team? Steve had some questions that he did not want asked. That's fine also but we were tasked with selling to the federal government and often it felt like we had one or both arms tied behind our backs.
I also knew some of the folks in Apple's security organization who were tasked with tracking leaks at Apple. All emails were fair game. We always assumed that Apple read every email that we sent. We did not know any secrets to leak and often joked that we got our product news from MacSurfer. I will never forget the Friday executive briefing we had at Cupertino with a NASA CIO. He complained bitterly that you could not connect an Apple display to the Powerbooks that he was deploying. We trotted out the Powerbook product manager who did a great presentation but would not touch the question about hooking the Powerbooks up to our displays. The next Monday Apple rolled out a Powerbook with an Apple display connector. Late that afternoon I got a priceless tongue in cheek email from the NASA CIO. He said if he had known how fast an executive briefing could get product changes, he would have scheduled one much quicker.
Perhaps the most interesting example came as I left Apple. Now Apple had no employee handbook, and every employee that I knew had personal email accounts on their Apple laptop. As the federal team, we needed to have digital certificates for our email to communicate with our cusotmers. With that came the ability to encrypt emails. If you are a technology driven person, you play with technology. I had a friend at a Pennsylvania college who also had a digital certificate so we often encrypted messages between us just because we could do it.
When Apple asked me to hand over my laptop, they generously let me remove my tax files and personal correspondence. I provided them with the password to my computer and the key to my Apple email account so they could see all the email there if one happened to be encrypted. However, then Apple demanded that I provide them the key for the personal email account that I used mostly for communication with my friend in Pennsylvania. I am sure there were employee emails there because it was not unusual to email my personal email account on the weekend if I didn't answer my Apple one. I at first resisted just on a matter of principle, but Apple threatened to withhold my vacation pay and severance. I finally gave them the key, I had nothing to hide, but it has always bothered me that I was forced to hand over my personal email key. I had paid for the key myself. My biggest worry was that once Apple had my key that they could send emails as me. Of course I revoked the key as soon as I got to another computer and then I got a new key.
That was nearly twelve years ago. The person in charge of sales at that time, Tim Cook. I am sure that given what I have seen since then, I would never keep any personal files on a company computer.
So please pardon me if I am a little skeptical of Apple's interest in preserving the privacy of anyone. The sincerest held belief at Apple is making money from selling products. That's is fine, I have nothing against Apple making money because they make some very good products and I use one daily. However, let us not put Apple on a security pedestal without asking Tim if he would try to break into an iPhone if they thought someone at Apple was saying something the company didn't want said. My guess is that they already have a way to do it.
My personal take on the whole security issue is that if a judge can be convinced to issue a search warrant, my whole house gets searched including my computers. What makes a smartphone so special that potential evil can hide on it undetected? Granted we live in a country with remarkable rights of free speech and others are not that lucky, but a locked iPhone is not going to slow most repressive regimes. They just make up the evidence anyway.