This isn’t some bleeding-heart benevolence wrought from Tim Cook’s dark night of the soul. It’s a shrewd business move reflecting demands from users, and we’re going to see more like it. The greatest value-add companies like Apple can provide for people right now is privacy.
Apple isn’t the only tech company taking an anti-surveillance stand. Anti-surveillance stands are hot. They’re the Adam Driver of stands. Google’s decision to encrypt email in transit comes from the same place as this new iOS 8 change. Yahoo also moved to encrypt email (as always, just behind the curve) and the rival companies are even working together to further beef up their encryption.
Again, they’re not doing this because someone cast a kumbaya collaboration spell: It’s good business. People want this sort of protection. The Snowden leaks gave us a reason to scream for privacy, and turned up the heat on the people who can help us get it.
The ACLU outlined why these new anti-surveillance features are so striking.
Apple’s new move is interesting and important because it’s an example of a company saying they no longer want to be in the surveillance business — a business they likely never intended to be in and want to get out of as quickly as possible.
This could have happened sooner, if the invisible hand of the market had pulled the “stop friggin monitoring us” trigger earlier. The surveillance business was not so odious to these companies until it was so odious to their customers. But now we are here, and our devices will be better for it, because companies are now incentivised not to help surveillance teams.
There isn’t a single device or piece of software immune to hacking from police or portly Russian fraudsters, including your new iPhone. Security experts have already pointed out that it’s still possible for police or anyone else with the right tools to penetrate iOS 8. These kinds of steps don’t grant us immunity to surveillance, but they do give us allies in the makers of our favourite programs and devices (allies contingent on us buying their products, but allies nonetheless).
We should be happy about Apple’s new anti-surveillance tactics, happy about the push these bigs tech companies are making to offer more secure products. It’s just a damn shame we live in a time where the best feature we can demand from our gadgets is that they not actively help people who are spying on us.