The list of data breaches that affected consumers in 2015 is astonishing. From the 80 million accounts hacked at Anthem to the theft of 21 million records of federal workers, privacy is becoming less secure.
So last week when U.S. Magistrate Sheri Pym of Riverside ordered Apple to help the FBI unlock the iPhone used by Syed Rizwan Farook, one of the perpetrators of the San Bernardino terrorist attack on December 2, it's no surprise CEO Tim Cook balked.
"The United States government has demanded that Apple take an unprecedented step which threatens the security of our customers," Cook wrote in a statement. "We oppose this order, which has implications far beyond the legal case at hand."
Facebook, Twitter, and Google CEOs demonstrated solidarity, tweeting their support for Apple and Cook's refusal.
Revelations of government spying on phone conversations, made by whistleblowers such as Edward Snowden have heightened the sensitivity of consumers to invasions of their privacy. In response, companies that seek to unleash the power of their businesses through technological innovations have to ensure their data and their customers' data is protected. That means protecting their customers' devices, as well as their own networks and databases.
But the FBI and federal prosecutors argue that evading detection by hiding behind strong encryption is a threat to the public.
In a letter to customers, Tim Cook explains why encryption matters:
Smartphones, led by iPhone, have become an essential part of our lives. People use them to store an incredible amount of personal information, from our private conversations to our photos, our music, our notes, our calendars and contacts, our financial information and health data, even where we have been and where we are going.
All that information needs to be protected from hackers and criminals who want to access it, steal it, and use it without our knowledge or permission. Customers expect Apple and other technology companies to do everything in our power to protect their personal information, and at Apple we are deeply committed to safeguarding their data.
Compromising the security of our personal information can ultimately put our personal safety at risk. That is why encryption has become so important to all of us.
For many years, we have used encryption to protect our customers' personal data because we believe it's the only way to keep their information safe. We have even put that data out of our own reach, because we believe the contents of your iPhone are none of our business.
Some are now calling Apple's refusal a marketing stunt, but I believe Cook is siding with the consumer. He understands that brand trust is critical and to comply with the FBI is to set a dangerous precedent.
For Apple, brand trust is critical. Consumers understand the importance of guarding sensitive information, but they are only willing to share it with companies they consider trustworthy.
What makes a brand trustworthy? In this article, David Rogers, a member of the Executive Education faculty at Columbia Business School, says, "Being transparent about what you do with your customer's data and how you're keeping it safe is becoming more important than ever."
What's your opinion? Should Apple let the government access people's private data?