Tim Cook gets his leadership moment, but is it an Apple moment?
Unless you've been actively avoiding the Internet and news in general (in which case, how did you get here?), you should know by now that Apple has taken a stance against the FBI in a case over whether or not the government can compel Apple to rewrite iOS software in order to allow law enforcement to access a locked device. Rather, I should say Tim Cook has taken a stand, because it's unclear how much backing he has within his own company. I don't mean that employees at Apple believe that the company should aid the FBI in its case, but more that there appears to be a disconnect between Apple employees and CEO Tim Cook.
Cook has finally found his moment to truly step out of the shadow of Steve Jobs with this case against the FBI. Cook tried to get his breakout with the launch of the Apple Watch, which is generally regarded as the first device that was his baby, but the Apple Watch was something of a mess. The Watch was nice enough, but the interaction methods were confused and it didn't have the focus that we've come to expect from Apple. That's not necessarily Cook's fault, because no company seems to understand why consumers need smartwatches yet, and Cook was always more of a supply chain genius than a product guy. But, standing up to the FBI has become his true breakout moment.
Cook has taken a hard stance and handled it well so far. He has been sympathetic to those who support the FBI, but also understanding of the fact that the more people learn about the case, the more they tend to side with Apple. On it's face, sure people want to help the FBI stop terrorists, but once they have the potential ramifications of this precedent explained, they understand quickly that their own privacy and data is at risk in the long run. The FBI may only be asking for the ability to unlock one twelve phones now, but that number would grow if given the chance.
Cook has done well in explaining this, even if his first public interview had him repeating his talking points a bit too much, and he has gathered support from other tech giants like Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Twitter, and even Verizon. Each company likely has its own reasons for backing Apple, but support is support.
This move is something that Apple has been inching towards for a while. It first set itself up as the "privacy-friendly" alternative to Google. Where Google gathered tons of data on you in order to provide services, Apple didn't gather that data (or provide similar services, but that's not really part of the marketing pitch). With this case against the FBI, Apple can push that idea to its logical extreme by positioning Apple not only as the privacy company but the security company as well. No phone from the iPhone 5s or newer can be bypassed in the way that the FBI wants, and Apple will continue to make it harder and harder for the company itself to access locked phones, let alone be able to provide access to law enforcement.
Of course allowing access to the phone doesn't necessarily mean that Apple is fully protecting your data. A glitch in the law means that law enforcement can subpoena iCloud backup data without a warrant, and Apple complies with those orders to hand over data.
Even so, despite Tim Cook's impressive showing of leadership, word has it that the employees at Apple are having some trouble with the way Cook leads. According to sources close to Apple, the issue stems from the fact that Apple employees aren't used to being in this kind of spotlight. Previously, Apple was almost guaranteed to be the company with "no comment" whenever it was asked about... well, just about anything really.
Apple never commented on rumors. Apple barely commented when there were big issues with its devices, preferring to fix the issues behind the scenes (like in the case of Bendgate, where Apple downplayed the issue but fixed the structural problem on the manufacturing end.) Overall, Apple employees had a long history of being kind of useless to reporters when it came to talking about anything. But, Tim Cook is slowly changing that.
The changes began with Cook's open letter coming out as a gay man. That was a brave move by Cook, especially given that he grew up in Alabama and still has family there. But, it was also reportedly a move that put Apple employees in the spotlight and had them being asked questions that they're not used to dodging. It can come off awkwardly to plead the fifth when asked about the sexuality of your boss. It's much easier to just say "no comment" when asked about iPhone rumors.
This latest open letter calling out the government for trying to overstep its bounds has allegedly been even worse for Apple employees and they find it uncomfortable to say the least. This is a very divisive issue and Apple is not used to being on the front lines in a case like this. Cook appears to feel that it is the right move, and I tend to agree, but not everyone wants to be on the front lines when taking on an issue like this, or when taking on the federal government.