Antitrust, billion dollar fines, privacy violations and numerous federal investigations. Facebook, Google, Apple and Amazon are feeling the pressure from a wave of government inquiries. Will they be broken up? Or will they survive? In this video we explore the issue.
Posted: Monday, July 29, 2019 9:05 AM
There’s a movement building within tech. Workers are demanding higher standards from their companies — and because of their unique skills and talent, they have the leverage to get attention. Walkouts and sit-ins. Picket protests and petitions. Shareholder resolutions, and open letters. These are the new tools of tech workers, increasingly emboldened to speak out. And, as they do that, they expose the underbellies of their companies’ ethics and values or perceived lack of them.
In this episode of IRL, host Manoush Zomorodi meets with Rebecca Stack-Martinez, an Uber driver fed up with being treated like an extension of the app; Jack Poulson, who left Google over ethical concerns with a secret search engine being built for China; and Rebecca Sheppard, who works at Amazon and pushes for innovation on climate change from within. EFF Executive Director Cindy Cohn explains why this movement is happening now, and why it matters for all of us.
Rebecca Stack-Martinez is a committee member for Gig Workers Rising.
Check out Amazon employees’ open letter to Jeff Bezos and Board of Directors asking for a better plan to address climate change.
Cindy Cohn is the Executive Director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation. EFF is a nonprofit that defends civil liberties in the digital world. They champion user privacy, free expression, and innovation through impact litigation, policy analysis, grassroots activism, and technology development.
Well protected? The FBI has been increasingly outspoken in its opposition to ubiquitous encryption of Apple and Google products. Photograph: Alamy
Apple, Google, other tech giants and a number of noted cryptologists have signed a letter to the Obama administration urging the US government to preserve strong encryption against pressure from law enforcement and surveillance agencies.
The letter argues that “strong encryption is the cornerstone of the modern information economy’s security,” and that the government should “fully support and not undermine efforts to create encryption standards [nor] in any way subvert, undermine, weaken or make vulnerable” commercial software.
It was obtained by the Washington Post in advance of its publication on Tuesday. The letter is also signed by three members of Obama’s five-person review group set up in 2013 to reassess technology policy in the wake of Edward Snowden’s leaks that summer.
Richard A Clarke, one of the review group signatories, made a comparison to a failed attempt to institute back doors in the phone network in the 90s. “If they couldn’t pull it off at the end of the cold war, they sure as hell aren’t going to pull it off now,” he told the newspaper.
Law enforcement agencies such as the FBI have been increasingly outspoken in their opposition to ubiquitous encryption. In October, the bureau’s director, James Comey, slated the decision of Apple and Google to turn on encryption by default.
With the launch of iOS 8, “the information stored on many iPhones and other Apple devices will be encrypted by default”, Comey told the Brookings Institute in Washington DC last year. “Shortly after Apple’s announcement, Google announced plans to follow suit with its Android operating system. This means the companies themselves won’t be able to unlock phones, laptops and tablets to reveal photos, documents, email and recordings stored within.”
Comey said: “At the outset, Apple says something that is reasonable – that it’s not that big a deal … Apple argues, for example, that its users can back up and store much of their data in ‘the cloud’ and that the FBI can still access that data with lawful authority. But uploading to the cloud doesn’t include all of the stored data on a bad guy’s phone, which has the potential to create a black hole for law enforcement.”
In response to such fears, many, including the British prime minister, David Cameron, have suggested that firms could build back doors in to their encryption – special weaknesses which allow law enforcement and surveillance agencies to break into otherwise secure connections. But the security industry is adamant that such back doors are technologically infeasible.
Due to the nature of modern encryption, “there is no way to put in a back door or magic key for law enforcement that malevolent actors won’t also be able to abuse”, argues the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Jeremy Gillula.
Apple has lost the functional high ground
January 4, 2015• ∞
Update: I regret having published this.
Apple’s hardware today is amazing — it has never been better. But the software quality has fallen so much in the last few years that I’m deeply concerned for its future. I’m typing this on a computer whose existence I didn’t even think would be possible yet, but it runs an OS with embarrassing bugs and fundamental regressions. Just a few years ago, we would have relentlessly made fun of Windows users for these same bugs on their inferior OS, but we can’t talk anymore.
“It just works” was never completely true, but I don’t think the list of qualifiers and asterisks has ever been longer. We now need to treat Apple’s OS and application releases with the same extreme skepticism and trepidation that conservative Windows IT departments employ.
Geoff Wozniak went back to desktop Linux after almost a decade on OS X (Update: He appears to have taken the post down). It’s just one person’s story, but many of his cited reasons resonate widely. I suspect the biggest force keeping stories like this from being more common is that Windows is still worse overall and desktop Linux is still too much of a pain in the ass for most people. But it should be troubling if a lot of people are staying on your OS because everything else is worse, not necessarily because they love it.
Apple has always been a marketing-driven company, but there’s a balance to be struck. Marketing plays a vital role, but marketing priorities cannot come at significant expense to quality.
I suspect the rapid decline of Apple’s software is a sign that marketing1 is too high a priority at Apple today: having major new releases every year is clearly impossible for the engineering teams to keep up with while maintaining quality. Maybe it’s an engineering problem, but I suspect not — I doubt that any cohesive engineering team could keep up with these demands and maintain significantly higher quality.2
The problem seems to be quite simple: they’re doing too much, with unrealistic deadlines.
We don’t need major OS releases every year. We don’t need each OS release to have a huge list of new features. We need our computers, phones, and tablets to work well first so we can enjoy new features released at a healthy, gradual, sustainable pace.
I fear that Apple’s leadership doesn’t realize quite how badly and deeply their software flaws have damaged their reputation, because if they realized it, they’d make serious changes that don’t appear to be happening. Instead, the opposite appears to be happening: the pace of rapid updates on multiple product lines seems to be expanding and accelerating.
An important nuance that the many sloppy rewrites of this article keep getting wrong (intentionally for sensationalism?): I’m referring to marketing as a priority, not “the marketing department”. I have no idea about the internal workings of the marketing department and how it does or doesn’t influence the company’s direction. Marketing priorities seem to be a bit too influential, such as requiring a new major OS with every iPhone release, or a new OS X every year, for their marketing benefits. ↩
People keep asking me whether a high-level executive change — Tim Cook, Phil Schiller, or Craig Federighi — is needed. I don’t know, of course — none of us really do — but I suspect that’s not really the problem. What seems to be the problem is the overall apparently agreed-upon prioritization put forward by the entire executive team.
This probably isn’t a “fire someone and fix it” problem — it’s simply an issue of poorly weighted priorities that can most likely be adjusted with the current personnel. ↩