Charlie Stross on Apple vs. the FBI

Charlie Stross:

The FBI thought they were asking for a way to unlock a mobile phone, because the FBI is myopically focussed on past criminal investigations, not the future of the technology industry, and the FBI did not understand that they were actually asking for a way to tracelessly unlock and mess with every ATM and credit card on the planet circa 2030 (if not via Apple, then via the other phone OSs, once the festering security fleapit that is Android wakes up and smells the money).

If the FBI get what they want, then the back door will be installed and the next-generation payments infrastructure will be just as prone to fraud as the last-generation card infrastructure, with its card skimmers and identity theft.

And this is why Tim Cook is willing to go to the mattresses with the US department of justice over iOS security: if nobody trusts their iPhone, nobody will be willing to trust the next-generation Apple Bank, and Apple is going to lose their best option for securing their cash pile as it climbs towards the stratosphere.

The most interesting part of Stross’s piece is his argument that Apple needs to become a bank just to manage its massive, ever-growing reserve of cash. I think he’s too cynical in arguing that Apple Pay is Apple’s primary motivation behind its stance on encryption and privacy, though. It’s without question part of it, but I think Apple would have the same stance today even if Apple Pay didn’t exist. iMessage is designed around end-to-end encryption, for example, and it has nothing to do with Apple Pay.

Update: A few readers have pointed out that iMessage doesn’t have anything to do with Apple Pay yet, but could soon. Turning iMessage into a user-to-user payment system would be very cool, indeed. Another example: Apple is widely believed to be working on encrypted iCloud backups. I don’t think there’s any Apple Pay tie-in there. My point is that I think both of the following statements are true: Apple believes in strong encryption as a matter of principle; strong encryption is fundamental to Apple Pay’s success.

Monday, 28 March 2016