Data versus Control
Apple recently released transparency data. They opened their archives to show exactly what they are and aren’t collecting. While doing so, they also offered the following statement: “Our business does not depend on collecting personal data. We have no interest in amassing personal information about our customers.”
At first glance, this is a damning statement about what Google and Facebook are doing and our privacy concerns there. But hidden in the corollary is a far darker statement: Apple doesn’t need your info because they’re already deciding what you can and can’t do.
I’ve long despised Apple for their distaste for freedom of information, their support of major conglomerates, their horrible closed-source systems, their freedom of speech issues, their treatment of small and independent designers, and their digital rights management issues. Not to mention that Steve Jobs was a dick.
But Apple is correct that they do not depend on our data, nor do they need to change that fact. By buying an Apple product, the user puts themselves in position to only do what Apple thinks is ok from the outset. Apps and music not purchased through their system often take more difficult steps to set up and use. The stuff that is offered is tightly controlled, often pulled from your machine because Apple wants you to buy their competing (or, more accurately, replacement) product. And the more that the world lauds Apple for not collecting data, the easier it is for them to close off or at least muddle additional channels to information.
An open community is essential to a free exchange of ideas and further growth in a fast-moving society. Apple doesn’t want to destroy that. They do, however, want to restrict it to increase revenues. When the company allows users additional freedoms, it’s because it’s more cost-effective to do so.
This doesn’t mean that Google or Microsoft are “better” companies. Google’s “Don’t be Evil” motto, which placated so many for so long, seems more farcical with each year. And Microsoft’s continued mismanagement and attempts to replicate Apple’s recent success only show that all these companies put profit over good.
But Apple’s statement masks another societal and technological issue that need to be corrected.
While it’s wonderful that Apple has helped make technology more accessible, it’s has also lowered the bar for necessary computer literacy. My most classic complaint about Apple products is that they make easy things easier and complicated things more difficult to do. This means that the general complaint about programming and technology not being taught well enough in schools is further complicated by overly simplified systems in home life. We already have problems with patience and overcoming obstacles, and this has been compounded by the simplification of technology. Users are now more prone to throwing up their hands when something does go wrong and avoiding learning the intricacies of their machine. This, more often than not, turns into regular upgrades and an unnecessary and constant merry-go-round of equipment. Good for sales; bad for computer literacy.
The solution isn’t to make systems simpler to use, nor is it to make things more uniform, though both could have the desired effect. It’s not to drive out the Luddites and laymen now brandishing their smart phones and tablets by making things require more effort and understanding. Instead, I believe that by making systems more open and creating better and simpler resources to learn about our machines easily and effectively.
We’ll never be able to overcome all the issues present in today’s technological wars, but we can certainly take steps to move things in the right direction. Not succumbing to Apple’s (or any other company’s) power-grab through closed systems is the biggest step.
Feel free to buy Apple products. I simply encourage you to jailbreak them whenever possible, run a dual-boot system with Linux or another open source platform, and never let Apple become the Big Brother you rely on. Just because they may not be collecting as much of our data doesn’t mean they’re going to let us be free.