Apple's brand is a lot of things to a lot of people. One of the most powerful aspects of its brand is that it is demonstrably committed to the overall experience of its users. That drives the company in a variety of ways, including how it designs hardware and software, as well as how it treats users' information.
That last one is pretty important, especially in a world where tech companies have built incredible business models based on how they monetize your data. Apple, on the other hand, has consistently stuck to its principles, and it's actually a powerful lesson for every entrepreneur: In the long run, trust is your most valuable brand asset. You need to keep that in mind even in the face of criticism, no matter how powerful the critic may be.
Here's what I mean: On Monday, the U.S. attorney general and the FBI director held a press conference at which they shared the news that the bureau had successfully accessed the iPhone belonging to Mohammed Saeed Alshamrani. Alshamrani killed three U.S. sailors and injured eight others at the Pensacola Naval Air Station in December 2019.
Both the AG, William Barr, and the FBI director, Christopher Wray, made a point of expressing just how unhappy they are with Apple's position on encryption and privacy.
"Thanks to the great work of the FBI--and no thanks to Apple--we were able to unlock Alshamrani's phones," said Barr.
Apple has long been at odds with the government about how it protects user information. Barr has made a point of expressing his belief that while protecting privacy is important, the government should have easy access to your data when it believes it needs it.
Famously, Apple held firm after the FBI demanded its help in unlocking the iPhone of one of the shooters who killed 14 in San Bernardino, California, in December 2015. The FBI eventually backed down when it was able to gain access through other means.
As a result, the company hasn't exactly made fans at the highest levels of law enforcement in this country. Barr, especially, has made no secret that he believes legislation is necessary to require that companies build their software with law enforcement backdoors.
"Apple's desire to provide privacy for its customers is understandable, but not at all costs," Barr said at the press conference. "There is no reason why companies like Apple cannot design their consumer products and apps to allow for court-authorized access by law enforcement while maintaining very high standards of data security. Striking this balance should not be left to corporate board rooms."
As an aside, there is no balance. Asking for a balance sounds reasonable, but it's a false argument. Either your data is encrypted, or it isn't. There's no such thing as secure encryption with a backdoor for law enforcement. That's not secure.
Apple hasn't backed down. It can't. It has made a promise to its users based on the principles it says it stands for. If it were willing to compromise those principles, they would be meaningless. So would the company's brand.
That's really the lesson by the way. Your customers are counting on you to keep your promises. Sometimes that's easy, like when you have an opportunity to delight a customer with something extra. Sometimes it's anything but easy, like when the government argues you're on the wrong side of the law.
Sure, a company like Apple can afford to take a stand, but honestly, so should you. I'm not suggesting you should take on the FBI or the DOJ, but I am suggesting that if you make a promise to your customers, you have to keep it. It turns out, that isn't complicated at all.