Internet security: Are Apple and Google protecting us or the criminals?

internet security

Late last year, Tom Webster and I did a podcast with our six marketing predictions for 2014. Two trends I mentioned were 1) the “malignant complexity” of the web that would lead to an increase in internet security breaches and 2) the opportunities this would create to actually market data security as a product feature.

In an online world under attack from hackers, terrorists, and just plain old bad guys wanting to wreak havoc, the idea of hack-proof Internet data safety will have to be a product feature trumpeted by new devices, software and service providers.

My prediction is coming true … but with some unexpected consequences.

The bad guys benefit

Keeping people away from your data is not just a feature, it has also become a marketing pitch, as I forecast.

Last week, Apple announced that its new operating system for iPhones would have a new encryption system. In its announcement, Apple sought to distinguish itself as more protective of customers’ privacy than its competitors, saying it doesn’t use customers’ data to sell or target ads (a slam at Google’s Android system).

With the new Apple security feature, only a customer’s passcode can grant access to a phone or tablet’s personal data. It makes it nearly impossible for the tech giant to unlock iPhones and iPads, even for cops with a search warrant.

So in a way, the tech giant is not just keeping the bad guys away, it is also going to keep some of the good guys away.

The new security feature would keep your data from hackers but also prevent law enforcement organizations from retrieving photos, videos, messages, and contacts that will help them solve crimes. A day after the Apple announcement, Google said that the next version of its Android operating system would also make it difficult for police to extract such data from suspects’ phones.

Is this for the public good?

Here is where it gets interesting. We are probably at the early stages of a data protection arms race. This is a good thing, isn’t it?

It depends.

Think of some recent headlines in your part of the world and consider how many crimes have been solved from unearthing conclusive evidence from computer and mobile data. If the data security arms race follows the Apple model, in our near future, some of these crimes might never be solved. These processes might protect us from hackers, but cyber criminals, thugs and child pornographers will operate in a protected Internet environment.

We all want information to be unencumbered on the web — and safe. But we should also want to support law enforcement agencies who depend on data to nail the criminals. It is kind of weird that there hasn’t been at least some outcry from the public AGAINST Apple. You could make an argument (and I am) that its security technology helps people who abuse children, bully innocents, and sell drugs in our cities.

The storm cloud is coming

One way or another, there is a storm cloud coming. Our legislative and regulatory processes are hopelessly out of step with the speed of technological advances. So either consumer electronics companies have to figure out how to play nice with law enforcement or the government is going to start regulating the Internet. We. Do. Not. Want. That.

It comes down to the lesser of two evils. My logic on this:

Evil Number One

  • If I think I may be in trouble with the law some day and want to keep my data from the police, I would support the Apple technology.
  • If I think the government will routinely over-step its boundaries, spy on our data without cause, and use this to deny our freedom, I would support Apple.
  • If I take a position that ALL data should be private, even if it is breaking the law, I would support Apple.

Evil Number Two

  • If I fear an unwieldy government regulatory response to protect its right to access data in the name of Homeland Security, I would want Apple to find another way.
  • If I want the government to have every weapon at its disposal to nab somebody who has hurt me, my family, and my country, I would want Apple to come up with a compromise solution.

There are no easy answers. There are risks either way.

In any event, you should have a strong opinion about this! What is yours?

Illustration courtesy of

All posts

The Marketing Companion Podcast

Why not tune into the world’s most entertaining marketing podcast!

View details

Let's plot a strategy together

Want to solve big marketing problems for a little bit of money? Sign up for an hour of Mark’s time and put your business on the fast-track.

View details

Share via