The latest front on which mobile device manufacturers are competing is security. After a major celebrity photo leak – off of Apple’s iCloud – security again became big news and Apple, as it released its iPhone 6 and OS 8, made a major pronouncement touting their commitment to user data security.
There are some significant questions beyond corporate pronouncements and marketing. Protecting data is tricky business and, though Apple has a closed ecosystem and, perhaps, more reason to protect user data than does Google, the reality of the situation is more complex than one being better than the other.
It’s Not Just Technology
In discussions of NSA spying, data being stolen by hackers, identity theft and other issues, the technological ability to keep these threats at bay is often the focus. However, particularly where issues such as government intrusion are being discussed, there is a legal issue at play.
Right now, Apple and Google are both competing with one another to some extent based on how much security a user’s data has when it is stored on one of their smart phones. Both of them seem to be moving toward providing encryption as a default means of protecting information if the user uses a passcode to access their device.
One of the issues is whether or not you can be forced to give up that passcode if law enforcement agencies have a warrant for your device. In one sense, they have a warrant, so they may be able to hold you in contempt or take other action if you don’t obey it. On the other hand, they may be violating your Fifth Amendment right to not incriminate yourself.
These are sticky issues and they go beyond technological ones. Passcodes, encryption and other measures become irrelevant if a user, legally, has no real right to restrict access to their information.
Apple does point out that their business model is different than Google’s. Google has an information driven business model, whereas Apple sells consumer products. In that sense, Apple doesn’t have any particular profit motive for sharing your information and may well have a profit motive in keeping it secure. Google, however, has started using encryption on its servers and seems poised to improve user security, though much remains to be seen.
Whenever you use a mobile device, remember that using encryption, passcodes and VPN connections are excellent security measures, but that your data security goes beyond technological solutions. Check the terms of service of any company you do business with and know the limits of your rights when using technology.