What Apple’s privacy battle means for retail

Feb 23, 2016
Tom Ryan

Apple’s refusal to help the FBI break into an iPhone used by one of the terrorists in December’s San Bernardino massacre has thrown a spotlight on the battle between privacy and national security in the digital age.

The dispute comes as retail deals with a steady stream of credit card hacks and trust issues hamper the industry’s use of consumer data to create personalized offers.

In an 1,100-word letter to customers, Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO, wrote that smartphones “store an incredible amount of personal information, from our private conversations to our photos, our music, our notes, our calendars and contacts, our financial information and health data, even where we have been and where we are going.”

Apple contends that creating a “backdoor” around its encryption safeguards would make its phones more vulnerable to cyber attacks. The bigger issue is the “dangerous precedent” that could be set in complying with similar orders from authorities inside and outside the U.S. in future investigations.

Mr. Cook said the government “could extend this breach of privacy and demand that Apple build surveillance software to intercept your messages, access your health records or financial data, track your location, or even access your phone’s microphone or camera without your knowledge.”

The Justice Department claims Apple has complied with similar requests in the past, that the request to rewrite code is one-off in nature, and that the order is no different than one for any search of a home or business. They charged Apple’s refusal is “based on its concern for its business model and public brand marketing strategy.”

The case addresses law enforcement’s frustrations over encryption tools overall.

While privacy advocates and some other tech giants cheered the stand, Apple may alienate consumers concerned about terrorism and be blamed for a future attack. Bringing back the privacy debate sparked by Edward Snowden, the case weighs what may be necessary to protect consumer data accessible in the digital age against what personal sacrifices may be required to protect citizens from terrorists and other dangers.

Photo: RetailWire

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Should retailers support Apple in its current dispute with the FBI? How might a ruling in the case affect retailers’ ability to make use of consumer data for marketing and personalization?

"To purposely create a mechanism and protocol to hack (for a social good) will become an unintended opportunity for malicious hackers with evil intent."
"The FBI could have made its request to Apple through the back channels, and Apple could have quietly complied. Instead we have a national dialog about some core American and human values applied in the digital age."
"Can we really be surprised by Apple’s refusal? Apple doesn’t want 2016 to be like "1984" any more than they wanted 1984 to be like "1984.""

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19 Comments on "What Apple’s privacy battle means for retail"

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Max Goldberg

Retailers should stay out of this fight, they have too many privacy issues of their own. This issue is narrowly focused on one phone and should not impact retailers’ ability to use consumer data for marketing and personalization. What the Apple/FBI tussle does highlight is the need for retailers to be judicious in their use of data and the need to keep customer information secure.

Paula Rosenblum

It’s not a retailer issue. It is, however, a citizen issue. I know we are deeply divided on this, but I have to go on record as saying I strongly support Tim Cook and Apple in this decision.

I understand we have very little privacy left, that doesn’t mean we should continue allowing that privacy to further erode.

Mohamed Amer

Hacking into devices and data breaches are what we ought to try to avoid by all means possible. To purposely create a mechanism and protocol to hack (for a social good) will become an unintended opportunity for malicious hackers with evil intent. Beware of the law of unintended consequences.

There are more effective ways to accommodate our security needs with our very real and legitimate privacy rights. Let’s all just calm down a bit.

Bob Amster

This is one of the most difficult concepts to reconcile. One group will argue (as does the Old Testament) that if you save one life is as if you saved the world. Another group will tell you (and most Americans have never experienced a dictatorship first hand) that opening that door, is exactly the passage through which those in power with ill intentions walk through to spy on, concoct stories about and use blackmail against their political opponents to get rid of them.

We are each entitled to our opinion, and a high court may have to issue its decision.

Retailers are only one group to be impacted, along with the rest of us.

J. Peter Deeb

If Apple continues to refuse to open the KNOWN terrorists’ phone then we may never be able to follow a terrorist trail or learn of other targets that could result in the loss of American lives in the future. This is not a retailer issue this is an American security issue. I am sure there are hackers already trying to get in to Apple phones, is it not better to let Apple with high internal security protocols help us fight terrorism on our soil?

Frank Poole
1 year 2 months ago

Retailers absolutely SHOULD support Apple.

The notion that this is about “one phone” shows the lack of understanding at work here.

Cathy Hotka

Make no mistake. The FBI is not asking Apple to hack into one person’s phone. The FBI is asking for a tool to be able to open anyone’s phone. Read the request.

Catching bad guys would be a lot easier if the FBI had the keys to your house, too, but we have to draw the line somewhere. I stand with Mr. Cook and applaud his patriotism.

Lee Kent

I believe this is something that warrants the right level of attention and I appluad Apple for taking the stand. I am not saying that because I think Apple is right or wrong. Simply that this is not an issue about Apple. It is an issue about governance and privacy.

I support Apple for raising the issue. And that’s my 2 cents.

HY Louis
1 year 2 months ago

I don’t see any relationship between Apple and retailers regarding helping the FBI. In my opinion this is Apple showing off, proving the FBI cannot hack into their phone. They want the whole world to know they have one up on the FBI. After the good press dies down, they will probably help. Perhaps they already have and the FBI is letting them say Apple is not helping as a reward for their assistance. I suppose a retailer would be entitled to the treatment if they could prove that even the FBI could not hack into their consumer data. I know if it was my company, I would see it as priceless free advertising.

Tom Redd

NO! Already people are supporting the government needs versus Apple’s scam for attention. Fifty-one percent of people support Uncle Sam vs. 38 percent nutty liberals. Most of us know that Apple could have done this whole gig behind closed doors and not run to the press with the story. No one would have known. Instead they chose to take it far and wide and tell the world — dumb move when dealing with terrorists. Keeping it all quiet the terrorist cells would never have known that the phone helps us find them (if there is any information on the phone). Marketing-wise and security-wise Cook and the softies made a really bad error. If one of your family members were killed by this hubby and wife terrorist team what would you want?

Cook is too politically correct and my hat goes off to Samsung and others that would have helped on this problem vs. how it is now a mess, with extensive court costs and America again looking weak.

Stand up for America and NOT terrorists! Apple — not supporting customers but giving ISIL more tools to kill with.

Karen McNeely

There is nothing to be won by retailers weighing in on this. It’s between Apple and the government. Let them duke it out.

Carlos Arambula

Retailers should listen to their consumers and in this case, most consumers are unsure on their position.

Consumers are already hesitant of any data collection, allowing access to private information will only contribute to the paranoia and flat out refusal of information sharing, which will make the industry’s marketing efforts more difficult.

Craig Sundstrom

I think retailers should stay out of — i.e. take no public position on — issues of which they have little influence and even less knowledge. This isn’t lunch counter integration or sales tax exemption, issues that directly affect them and which they can claim a clear “right” side (even if someone else might argue differently). Whatever they say or do, other than being silent, will generate “can’t win” opposition.

As for a ruling, it’s wayyyyy too early to speculate about an issue that isn’t even on the docket yet.

Mark Heckman

There are viable concerns and good points to be made on both sides of this argument. If it is a matter of breaching access to security codes and encryption that Apple has put in place, I would side with Apple in defending their brand and the customer’s security.

However, in this case, if Apple simply extracted the text messages that are sought and deliver them to the FBI without exposing codes and encryption, they are simply providing valuable information surrounding a known terrorist that could very likely save future lives. As an Apple iPhone user, I would have not problem with that, in fact would applaud the gesture.

Unfortunately, as in many things involving the government and big business, common sense is not so common.

James Tenser
I think Apple’s loud protest against a “back door” amounts to a straw man argument, and maybe some technical hair-splitting as well. I also feel like the loud public discussion that has ensued reveals a great deal of posturing on both sides. This is a much-needed test of our principles, but I see little connection to the responsibilities of retailers. To Mr. Cook and to thoughtful Americans who worry about government intrusion in this instance, I’d like to suggest that personal security is certainly an extremely important value; but personal privacy must be considered as a separate thing. In certain very narrow specific instances where public safety is threatened, there should be a legal, limited, and accountable process to swiftly investigate the behaviors of individuals who pose a credible threat. That includes search warrants for homes, property, vehicles, communications and electronic devices. Would I be appalled if the authorities attempted to investigate me in that manner? You bet I would. But I do not live with an expectation of absolute privacy about any aspect of my life, so I behave accordingly. At the same time I very much do not want my loved ones or friends or any person to… Read more »
Lance Thornswood
Retailers, and everyone else, should support Apple in its present privacy dispute with the FBI. What the federal government is asking is not a one-off request: they’re asking for the ability to defeat the encryption mechanism — an ability that could be used over and over again whenever they feel it’s warranted. Creating a tool to defeat encryption and handing this to the federal government would be like giving the fox free access to the hen house (again) and presuming the privilege won’t be abused. How quickly have people forgotten the NSA’s illegal monitoring program? It’s wise to keep fear mongering in check, and apply a bit more rationality to this present debate: if this surveillance capability is created, it will certainly be abused — as recent history has demonstrated. I’m once again reminded the oft-used Ben Franklin quote, “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.” As to the question of a ruling affecting retailers’ ability to use consumer data for marketing and personalization, I don’t envision any direct impact. But if the courts rule that Apple must defeat the encryption, it will further erode consumer confidence that any data they… Read more »
Geoffrey Ingall
1 year 2 months ago

Okay, let’s get silly (I hope): the FBI/CIA discover there’s a dirty bomb ticking away in the heart of New York….

David Livingston
1 year 2 months ago

My conspiracy theory is Apple and the FBI are like pro wrestling. They are just pretending to be feuding because as long as there is no publicly disclosed resolution, they are both winners and both Apple and the FBI are pleasing customers or taxpayers.

Janet Dorenkott

Had the FBI contacted Apple before attempting to log in 10 times without success, we would already have the information. I was originally unsure how I felt about this until i learned about the failed attempts.

Apple intentionally made sure there was no back door BEYOND the first 10 attempts. To develop a back door beyond the 10 attempts would expose all Apple customers to hackers. The FBI is not simply asking Apple to help them get into the phone. Apple has done this for them in the past. But because the FBI tried to hack in, without Apples help during those first 10 attempts, what they are asking Apple to do is change their business practice, develop a new program that will expose all customers to hackers and and remove a competitive edge.

I’ve never been an Apple fan. I’m a Droid fan. But I think the FBI is going beyond what is a reasonable request. And the media is not fully explaining it because I don’t think they fully understand the real issue.

Retailers should stay out of this.

"To purposely create a mechanism and protocol to hack (for a social good) will become an unintended opportunity for malicious hackers with evil intent."
"The FBI could have made its request to Apple through the back channels, and Apple could have quietly complied. Instead we have a national dialog about some core American and human values applied in the digital age."
"Can we really be surprised by Apple’s refusal? Apple doesn’t want 2016 to be like "1984" any more than they wanted 1984 to be like "1984.""

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