Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Apple, Google and the looming war over data security: Whatever happens, we win

(John J. Kim/Chicago Tribune/MCT)
(John J. Kim/Chicago Tribune/MCT)

As Apple celebrates the launch of the best-selling, critically well-received iPhone 6 and iOS 8, and Google prepares to release its own much anticipated Android L operating system and suite of corresponding devices, it seems that the two tech giants are drawing lines in the sand of yet another unexplored battleground: user privacy and data security.

While competition between these two enormous brands has been commonplace in the past, almost to the point of banality, neither party stands to benefit from battling over privacy more than the consumer.

Shortly after the massive and record breaking launch of the new iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus, Apple’s website updated with “a message from Tim Cook” himself, detailing the company’s continued commitment to protect their users’ data. Far from the usual dry and neutral legalese of the typical online or digital privacy statement, Cook’s appeal is targeted, concise and no-nonsense.

In the wake of the recent scandals and concerns surrounding the iCloud breach that led to the leak of intimate photos of several high-profile celebrities known as Celebgate, or the massive hack of millions of Target customers’ credit card information around Black Friday of last year, there is a precedent for anxiety concerning the safety and anonymity of user information in the modern digital economy.

Cook also addressed the controversial topic of government surveillance in the consumer electronics industry, which is the basis of some of Google’s most vitriolic criticism. “I want to be absolutely clear,” Cook said, “that we have never worked with any government agency from any country to create a backdoor in any of our products or services. We have also never allowed access to our servers. And we never will.”
This is a continuation of the rhetoric Apple expressed at its iPhone and iOS 8 launch event, where improvements to iCloud and the introduction of the new Apple Pay digital payment system chiefly emphasized anonymity and compartmentalization.

Even to those who may not follow the politics of tech, these statements are obviously direct jabs at Google, whose business model is centered around the aggregation of user search data and preferences to deliver targeted advertisements to their customers. The folks at Google were not to be outdone, however, as they announced in an interview with The Washington Post that baseline encryption will be a default feature of the imminent Android L software update, which is expected to be released later this fall. This brings both iOS and Android devices in line in terms of data security, a feature neither operating system offered as early as a year ago.

This highly publicized and user-facing one-upmanship is both a frequent theme in the tech industry and an indicator of larger and much fiercer competition to come from two of the world’s biggest brands. Apple and Google have squared off countless times before over features like cameras, 4G LTE capability, available apps and price. These battles are considered trivial at best and immature and unnecessary at worst. Fighting over user anonymity and data security, however, is another story entirely.

We live in a society on the verge of catastrophic change. The internet is truly the backbone of both the global society and the global economy. The right to private and protected user data has rapidly become synonymous with free speech and individuality, and is fiercely threatened by the dual prospects of government surveillance and unregulated Internet Service Providers like Comcast.

User data is the digital representation of one’s identity online, and deserves to be safeguarded and defended as would any other form of self-expression. It is clearly in the best interests of both Apple and Google to protect their users’ right to privacy, seeing as public opinion seems to have shifted from asking to demanding higher privacy standards in any form. In this case, I welcome the imminent combat. If the tech industry can iterate upon metadata security as strongly as it has on battery life and screen size, then neither Apple nor Google will win a bigger victory than prospective consumers.

Johnny McCabe is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected].

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    papa jackSep 26, 2014 at 8:54 pm

    Good column john keep up the good work say hi to indy