Tech Companies Hesitated Before Supporting Apple

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Apple CEO Tim Cook. Photo: Stephen Lam/Getty Images

Tech companies — including Alphabet, Microsoft, Facebook, Snapchat, and Yahoo — are signing amicus briefs in support of Apple in its case against the federal government, which has asked Apple to unlock the phone of one of the San Bernardino terrorists. This in and of itself is not particularly surprising — the case has clear implications beyond Apple — but, according to the New York Times, Apple’s peers were not initially quite so ready to jump into the fray.

The main reason cited by the Times: This specific case is too controversial to pick a fight with the government over — and lots of tech companies have large contracts with the government they fear could be jeopardized. The Times quotes Keith Rabois, a prominent venture capitalist:

Keith Rabois, a venture capitalist with the firm Khosla Ventures, said he was a strong believer in privacy and encryption — “all the normal Silicon Valley views,” he said — but worried that Apple could lose the case, setting a legal precedent that could force other companies to compromise the security of their products for law enforcement.

In my view, this is the wrong case to fight,” Mr. Rabois said. “There are plenty of other cases with a lot less sympathetic case for the government.”

Those are credible reasons. But it’s also hard to wonder if Apple CEO Tim Cook’s strong previous criticism of his rivals hasn’t made them a small amount less willing to speak up on his behalf. In February 2015, Cook spoke about cybersecurity at President Obama’s Cybersecurity Summit at Stanford, in which he subtweeted the ad-driven business models of Facebook, Yahoo, and Google. Notably not present at the event: Mark Zuckerberg, Marissa Mayer, Larry Page, and Eric Schmidt:

I’m speaking to you from Silicon Valley, where some of the most prominent and successful companies have built their businesses by lulling their customers into complacency about their personal information,” he said, again taking shots at Google, Facebook, and Yahoo in a June 2015 speech to the Electronic Privacy Information Center. “They’re gobbling up everything they can learn about you and trying to monetize it. We think that’s wrong. And it’s not the kind of company that Apple wants to be … You might like these so-called free services, but we don’t think they’re worth having your email, your search history, and now even your family photos data mined and sold off for god-knows-what advertising purpose.”

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Tech Companies Hesitated Before Supporting Apple