As the Apple debate continues to spark reaction, we can’t help but wonder what effect this case will have on the advertising ecosystem. If you haven’t been keeping up, the US government has ordered Apple (through court order) to create a small piece of software that will override the strong encryption of a phone used by one of the San Bernardino shooters. The phone, owned by the man’s employer, had been backed up to the cloud fairly recently, and that information had already been made available to the government. What the government wanted was simply some recent information.
Apple refused. Last Friday it filed a brief with the court challenging the order, saying that
“This is not a case about one isolated iPhone,” writes Apple attorney Marc Zwillinger in today’s brief. “Rather, this case is about the Department of Justice and the FBI seeking through the courts a dangerous power that Congress and the American people have withheld: the ability to force companies like Apple to undermine the basic security and privacy interests of hundreds of millions of individuals around the globe.”
Read the Wired article if you are interested in more detail. For us, the major questions have to do with the global impact of this order on Apple, and the effect of “hacking” the iPhone on the already fragile mobile advertising ecosystem in which we participate.
There are many countries in the world where trust in government is not presumed. Many of those countries have hundreds of millions of people who have come on line trusting privacy; they’re not sophisticated computer users. Part of Apple’s success in some emerging markets has been its emphasis on privacy and security. Apple has declared that creating the software to help the government risks that piece of code getting out in the wild and being abused. Apple also believes that if it gives in the US government, it will have not a leg to stand on when other, less representative governments demand access to an individual’s phone.
Most important to those of us in the industry, consumers are already furious over tracking and stalking and unwelcome use of their data. This, rather than ads per se is the number one reason people install ad blockers when they install them. The industry is fighting hard to keep the trust of consumers, and to make mobile advertising acceptable.
Hearing that personal information on iPhones, even though it is encrypted, can be hacked, would entirely undermine the future of our industry. That’s why other tech companies like Google and Amazon have jumped on to support Apple and write briefs on its side in the court case. For one or two terrorists it’s a little dangerous to destroy an entire ecosystem.