Tim Cook’s Apple: On The Wrong Path?

Posted by · February 15, 2012 1:20 pm

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I love Apple. I’ve got an iMac, a MacBook Pro, an iPhone, and an iPod Touch, and I love all of them. And while my Apple arsenal might pale when compared to that of the most ardent Apple fanatic, there’s no doubt about my faith in the product that the company produces. Thanks to the advice of my wife—who, in the interest of full disclosure, worked for Apple while she was in college—the first PC I ever bought was also my last, and I’ve never looked back.

But, not unlike the seemingly conflicted rationale that most of our parents gave right before our worst punishments as kids, it’s the ones we love the most that often need the most consistent chastening and redirection.

Until now, I’ve been one of Tim Cook’s biggest fans. Not long after Apple came under considerable criticism for the work conditions to which overseas suppliers and manufacturers subjected their workers, I hailed the seemingly genuine concern Cook had for the people who work 10-plus hours a day, often seven days a week to make sure that our comparatively care-free lives can be that much more convenient for the cheapest possible price. Lauding Cook’s desire to show the world that Apple cares about all workers in its supply line as a turning point in the company’s oft-clandestine history, I initially concluded that a “New Era of Transparency” was sweeping through Apple.

“Tim Cook is no Steve Jobs,” I wrote. “But in an age where consumers continue to demand increased transparency from the companies they patronize, that’s probably a good thing.”

But one month later, the hope that once unmistakably shone through Apple’s historically enigmatic organizational structure seems to be getting swallowed up as quickly as it appeared.

On Labor Conditions: Good, But Not Nearly Good Enough

While I stand by my original observation that Tim Cook isn’t another Steve Jobs, my conclusion that it’s a good thing is beginning to crumble under its own weight. Known for playing his cards close to his chest, Jobs didn’t throw out a lot of press fodder during his tenure—undoubtedly one of the features that added to his legendary allure as Apple’s CEO. If he did divulge something about the closely guarded goings-on at Apple headquarters, you could count on him to do exactly what he said he was going to do.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said with an equal degree of assurance with Tim Cook at the helm.

While a great degree of appreciation is owed the new CEO for being more transparent, it’s difficult to be so complementary without a certain level of trepidation. With everything that is in me, I want to believe Cook when he stands at one of the largest altars to Wall Street and tells his audience point blank that he “takes working conditions very seriously.” I want to stand up and applaud my computer screen when I hear him say that “every worker has the right to a safe working environment where workers can earn a fair wage.”

But when the centerpiece of Cook’s plan to resolve this very real problem is the “great equalizer” of education, it becomes difficult to ignore the glaring likelihood that what I want might be significantly departed from reality. That is, a refusal to directly address the base-level issues that are beginning to afflict this company’s reputation as it is placed on a pedestal leads me to fear that one of two things is true. Either Tim Cook doesn’t recognize the gravity of the situation that, up until now, he has had the courage to address, or this is little more than a massive PR push to heighten consumer perception of Apple without actually fixing the central issue.

For the sake of those who will ultimately pay the price for Apple’s decisions, let’s hope that it’s simply an informational deficiency that will eventually be filled.

On Privacy: Nowhere To Be Seen

English: Steve Jobs and Walt Mossberg at the A...

As I mentioned above, Steve Jobs was selective about what he told the public when it came to the inner workings of the company. One such instance was a discussion he had back in 2010 at the D8 Conference. Sitting down with Kara Swisher and Walt Mossberg of AllThingsD, Jobs made a point of setting Apple apart from his “colleagues in the valley”—most notably, Google and Facebook—who still find themselves regularly caught up in more than their fair share of privacy debacles.

Speaking specifically to concerns about protecting privacy in iPhone use, Jobs told his audience the following:

As an example, we worry a lot about location in phones. And we worry that some 14-year old is gonna get stalked and something terrible is gonna happen because [of] our phone…So, as an example, before any app can get location data, we don’t make it a rule that they have to put up a panel and ask because they may not follow that rule. They call our location services and we put up a panel saying “this app wants to use your location data, is that okay with you?” every time they want to use it. And we do a lot of things like that to ensure that people understand what these apps are doing.

Because of such a strict policy, Jobs said, “We have rejected a lot of apps that wanna take a lot of your personal data and suck it up into the cloud.” Unsurprisingly, he continued, such a policy brought on the reputation of being “really old fashioned” in the midst of a region where companies seemingly always push the envelope on user privacy.

“Privacy means people know what they are signing up for, in plain English, and repeatedly. That’s what it means.”

This would be one of the numerous instances in which following in Jobs’ footsteps would seem like a no-brainer. But under the leadership of Tim Cook, it seems that privacy has since been radically redefined to closer coincide with Apple’s Silicon Valley neighbors. So radically, in fact, that Congress has even expressed its concern by writing a letter directly to the Apple CEO.

Responding to the unpleasant surprise that Path delivered to its users when it was discovered that the popular app was uploading users’ entire address books without so much as a warning—let alone the repeated request for permission that Jobs spoke of—a couple members of Congress wrote a letter to Tim Cook requesting further information about iOS apps.

“This incident raises questions about whether Apple’s iOS app developer policies and practices may fall short when it comes to protecting the information of iPhone users and their contacts,” the letter suggested, followed by a list of questions, which the lawmakers requested be answered “no later than February 29, 2012.”

Once again, the onus is on Tim Cook to prove to loyal Apple followers that this is not the new norm—that he’s just as serious about protecting user privacy as his predecessor. If he decides to let the company follow down the same road taken by his “colleagues in the valley,” it could prove disastrous for the long-term success of the world’s wealthiest company by turning consumers away from one of the final places where gaining informed consent to share user information was a priority.

Your move, Mr. Cook.

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